By Maria Kislykh, New Cold War.org, May 18, 2017
KYIV, Ukraine – A decree has been issued by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko imposing sanctions on a host of popular, Russian-based companies providing internet services in the country. Among them are Yandex, a Russian multinational technology company specializing in Internet-related services and products; Mail.ru, a Russian e-mail provider; and a plethora of social networks including VK (VKontakte), OK.ru (in Russian: Одноклассники, in English: Classmates).
The sanctions apply initially for three years.
Details on the complete list of blocked internet providers are contained in related documents to the presidential decree. Ukrainian internet providers will be required to block Yandex products such as Yandex.mail,Yandex.maps,Yandex.disk and Yandex.direct.
The Yandex office in Ukraine has not commented on the Presidential decree at this moment, but it has noted that Russian social networks in Ukraine are still available. The former CEO of Yandex Ukraine, Sergey Petrenko, has, however, strongly criticized this decision and pointed at the fact that a lot of people will lose their job.
The Executive Chairman of the Internet Association of Ukraine (ІнАУ), Oleksandr Fedienko, gave this comment regarding the decree: “At this moment, blocking of the entire system isn’t possible. Operators aren’t technically prepared to implement the measures.”
It is worth noting that VK, Yandex and Mail.ru are some of the most popular websites in Ukraine. The decree is analogous to a U.S. president seeking to block Google and Facebook.
According to a study done by the Factum Group Ukraine through Opinion Software Medi, the social network VK is leading in Ukraine with 12 million users. By comparison, Facebook has 6.3 million users in Ukraine.
The same day as the decree was officially signed, Zorian Shkiriak, advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, expressed his satisfaction on Facebook regarding the Presidential decision.
Earlier, on May 14, Poroshenko was asked during a press conference if he was aware of systematic persecution of political dissidents in Ukraine. The journalist Michael Tkac argued that the government maintains an active army of bots. The president answered that people in today’s Ukraine enjoy the highest degree of freedom in the history of the country.
The new decree has provoked a strong response in society. It quickly became the most-talked about subject in Ukrainian mass media, with many people saying Poroshenko is attempting to cause tension and divert attention from his government’s unpopular record. His censorship measures are looking ahead to the presidential election scheduled for 2019.
Banning some social media networks where there are as many opinions as people is an attack against civil liberties. The President speaks about the danger to Ukraine of Russian social networks, calling them propaganda outlets and calling for people to abandon them on a voluntary basis. But if people have no choice in the matter, they will hardly consider it a free and fair choice.
There are many YouTube channels and Facebook accounts expressing anti-Ukrainian views. If the Ukrainian president bans ‘pro-Russian’ social networks today, how long will it be until all social media is banned? That’s the further danger that the presidential decree opens up.
Maria Kislykh is a film studies student in Ukraine.
Ukraine: Banning its way to the promised land, commentary by Bryan MacDonald, published on the ‘Op Edge’ feature of RT.com, May 16, 2017