Ukraine sanctions Russian social media amid Crimea’s virtual blackout


Credit: CNA

Ukraine has moved to block access to top Russian social media sites and search-and-email portals, adding them to a list of companies and individuals sanctioned over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in the east of the country. President Petro Poroshenko’s measures come one day after warning on television of a “cyber war,” The FT reports.

A decree by Poroshenko posted late on Monday expanded sanctions adopted over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine to include 468 companies and 1,228 people, The Guardian adds:

Among them were the Russian social networks VK and Odnoklassniki, the email service and the search engine company Yandex, all four of which are in the top 10 most popular sites in Ukraine, according to the web traffic data company Alexa. The decree requires internet providers to block access to the sites for three years.

Human rights advocates and media groups criticized the move.

“This is yet another example of the ease with which President Poroshenko unjustifiably tries to control public discourse in Ukraine,” said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Poroshenko may try to justify this latest step, but it is a cynical, politically expedient attack on the right to information affecting millions of Ukrainians, and their personal and professional lives.”

Reporters Without Borders said it was a “blatant violation of freedom of expression”.

But Adrian Karatnycky, a fellow at the US-based Atlantic Council, said it was “reasonable” for Ukraine to ban the Russian sites given “that the country is at war with Russia, Russia is launching cyber attacks on Ukraine and clearly the Russian sites are subject to information sharing”.

On Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the Russian authorities are suppressing freedom of speech so that no one will really know what has happened there, notes Yuriy Lukanov, an independent journalist with Ukraine’s Human Rights Information Centre. Journalists in particular are under threat, he writes for the Atlantic Council:

The case of Ukrainian journalist Mykola Semena (right) is one example of the situation in Crimea, which Russia has illegally occupied since 2014. His opinions were published in 2015 by Radio Liberty, a US government-sponsored news outlet that the Russian authorities dislike. His crime: he discussed Russia’s annexation of Crimea and supported a blockade of the peninsula. On April 19, 2016, Semena’s house was searched by the FSB, the Russian security service. Within a couple of days, they brought charges against him. His case is in Russian court now, and he faces a sentence of up to five years in prison.

“How can this process be halted? How can Russian criminal activity in occupied Crimea be stopped?” Lukanov asks. “Establishing a special international permanent institution monitoring the status of human rights on the peninsula would be a first step. This will not stop Russian arbitrariness and repressions, but at least such an institution will restrain its activity.” RTWT

The Russian approach to hybrid warfare, which was applied successfully in Ukraine, was first tested in its 2008 conflict with Georgia, writes Michael Lambert. The Caucasus was a laboratory for such hybrid approaches, and remains a diplomatic testing ground for the Kremlin, he writes for Inside Policy.

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