Ban Impossible Permit. Block of Russian websites in Ukraine: pros and cons

May 27 • ARTICLES, HOT NEWSNo Comments on Ban Impossible Permit. Block of Russian websites in Ukraine: pros and cons

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On May 16 The President of Ukraine Peter Poroshenko have introduced a decision of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine on sanctions against Russian sites and services. Among them are ‘Yandex’, ‘VKontakte’ and ‘Odnoklassniki’ (you can find the list of websites here).

Informator.media made a try to understand the causes and consequences of this step

Officially

If we’re going to talk about reasons, so they are, it seems, on the surface: during more than three years Russian Federation is conducting armed aggression against Ukraine, but more scarier and much more insidious (and sometimes more effective) than ‘Grad’ Multiple rocket launch systems and tanks is Russian propaganda.

Information war had begun long before first explosion sounded in Donbass. Such security measures seem even somewhat belated, counting ‘methods’ of work of Russian propagandists. At first sight, block of Russian TV-channels, websites and social media is quite logical.

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‘Hybrid was, which is being held by RF information troops, is the important thing for Russians in this war. Huge propaganda budgets are being thrown out to destabilize the situation as well as in Ukraine and inside of Europe’, Poroshenko noted.

He answered in such a way on a question of journalists about the decision of National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine ‘On the application of personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions), which in particular introduces the blocking in Ukraine of some Russian online resources’.

‘I can note that right after stop of Russian aggression against Ukraine, right after last Russian soldier will leave sovereign and independent Ukraine, we will be ready to revise this decision’, the President added.

Meanwhile, foreign partners reacted ambiguously on such a step of Ukrainian side. So, the NATO press-service claimed: ‘Ukrainian Government made clear, that this solution is a matter of security, not freedom of speech. NATO works with Ukraine to strengthen its reforms, including issues of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. The freedom of press is in the topics of this dialogue. We believe in adherence of Ukraine to its international obligations and acting in Ukraine the system of checks and balances’.

EU is waiting from Ukraine data about sanction decision. EU representation in Ukraine reported: ‘We raised this issue in a dialogue with the Ukrainian side. We expect to receive more detailed information’.

Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, expressed concern about Kiev’s decision: ‘Block of social media, search engines, post services and news websites contradicts to our common understanding of the freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Otherwise, such wide bans don’t  correspond to the principle of proportionality’.  

Chain reaction

A lot of things changed during last few days for internet users. The largest Ukrainian mobile operators Vodafone Ukraine, Kyivstar and lifecell blocked access to Russian servers using the mobile Internet after the implementation of the NSDC decision by the President.

‘Dear Subscribers! Telecom operators JSC ‘Kyivstar’, ‘lifecell’ ltd. and Vodafone Ukraine report that Decree of the President of Ukraine No. 133/2017 of May 15, 2017 ‘On the application of personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions)’ from now on entered into force. According to this Decree telecom operators must stop to provide access service to a number of web-resources, including social media ‘VKontakte’, ‘Odnoklassniki’ all Yandex services, mail.ru etc. Full list of such web-resources is available at Governmental portal. Fulfilling the requirements of this Decree, telecom operators, from now start technical activities to limit providing of an access to appointed web-sites according to technical possibilities’, it’s said in the text of the statement.  

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The situation was commented by Security Service of Ukraine representatives: ‘The prohibition of the activities of social networks concerns only the work of their missions in our country as well as their financial activity. In fact to block the work of the resource itself in Ukraine is impossible because of a number of reasons. First, we don’t have relevant laws. Second, internet providers, as I know, corny don’t have technical possibilities for this. This is about millions of hryvnias, coding of appropriate software and blocking of all workarounds to get to pages of banned services’.

However, Ukrainian special services remain at the same opinion – Ukrainians mustn’t use Russian social media, because FSB has all instruments to collect information, which could be dangerous for both Ukrainian citizens and the state as a whole.  

During May 17 users had no problems to enter Russian social media or using services. But on May 18 Yandex news feed failed few times, moreover, it was impossible to enter Russian social media through the mobile Internet, provided by Ukrainian operators. At the same time, separatist resources don’t waste their time. The messages about new services, which are offered to NGCA of Luhansk region residents, begin to appear at the controlled by fighters websites from May 17.

So, mobile operator ‘Lugacom’, acting on captured by insurgents territory, added the possibility of access to ‘WhatsApp’. Moreover, ‘Lugacom’ subscribers got an offer to register in Russian Yandex.  

‘VKontake’ users receive messages since May from resource administration with detail instructions how to bypass ban on Russian social media.

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‘Do the same as Northern Korea’

The decision of the head of state caused discontent among a number of activists, human rights activists, as well as ordinary citizens of Ukraine. So, the petition with the demand to cancel ban of ‘VKontakte’ in Ukraine appeared in the web on May 16. The author of petition name is Anatoly Tkachenko.

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Otherwise, lawyer from Chuguev Roman Likhachov challenged in court the presidential decree imposing sanctions against Russian companies and social media. According to his opinion, Ukraine is likened to North Korea, limiting the rights of own citizens to choose free content.

Likhachov write on his Facebook page:

‘I will not tolerate such a lawless and unpunished violation of the rights of citizens, Mr. President. And it’s not in the ‘VK’ and not ‘Odnoklassniki’, it’s in the way to limit freedom. What tomorrow? To forbid to think? To forbid to breathe?’

‘We are the country that’s moving to Europe and we do the same as North Korea. I really can’t understand? Where and when I delegated to the state the right to determine what and where to look, write and read’, the lawyer added.

There are also separate protests against blocking – so, the enter to ‘Roshen’ shop (Poroshenko chocolate factory) on Volodymyr Velyki st., Lviv was pelted with rubbish bags. People left posters with inscriptions: ‘Give back VK!’ and ‘Throw the garbage away’ near the building.

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Pros and cons: the reaction of social media

Real flurry of emotions about blocking of Russian resources rages in social media. If some national, regional or world news sometimes come and go, and without creating a tangible information burst, this time there were no indifferent to the topic.

Opinions divided on two polar sides. Supporters of blocking give different arguments, which, as a result, lead to the thesis about the state security of Ukraine, protesting that blocking is a violation of freedom of speech or other rights. Ukrainian experts, journalists, political scientists write the following:

It’s noted that block of ‘sanction’ resources is a hard-working, long and costly enough process. So, nearly two years and $! Billion are needed to close absolutely all appointed Russian resources. The CEO of internet-association of Ukraine Alexander Fedienko has claimed about it.

The opponents of the decision of the President of Ukraine шnsist that the blocking of a number of Russian resources (for example, apolitical ones, such as Kinopoisk) is a violation of the rights of a citizen, the right to freedom of choice, constitutional rights. Some users suppose that blocking won’t stop nowadays at this stage and ostensibly it will be spreaded on the other local websites, which are criticizing the regime.

Meanwhile, social media users, Russians in its first turn, generously share with each other the ‘recipes’ of bypassing the blocking of resources under sanctions.

On Monday, May 22 a number of providers in a number of Ukrainian regions first time absolutely denied access to Russian resources for their clients. So, news feed of ‘Yandex.Ukraine’ keeps silence, impossible to visit ‘VKontakte’ and a number of Russian websites are not available.

We note that while hype around blocking of social media is lasting, separatist resources, acting on NGCA of Donbass and also in occupied by Russia Crimea, are continuing to work. Pro-Russian internet-editions, controlled by ‘LPR’ and ‘DPR’ fighters as well as websites of fighters’ facilities work too.

At the same time, there are a lot of patriotic publics in blocked social media. In fact, their administrators fulfill the function of the Ministry of Information Policy. They explain and describe what’s happening on NGCA, point on lie of separatist internet-editions, publish the truth about shellings from the side of illegal armed formations.

The biggest part of such communities are closed. Users share the information, post photos and video. Now, when blocking had come into force, thousands of posts, millions of photo, innumerable details about the course of ATO – for more than three years now users have chronicled what is happening are put under the threaten.

‘It’ s quite natural, that we want to preserve this. We will further use Russian social media for those, who are here (in Donetsk, Luhansk, Crimea – ed.) sitting without a sip of truth. We will work in spite of our power. It’s more important than bans and blockings’, the administrator of one of Luhansk publics reported.

‘Senseless blocking’: NGCA residents view

A lot of people of NGCA are discouraged by such a decision of Poroshenko. The correspondent of Informator.media communicated with NGCA of Donbass residents, who commented the Decree of the President.

The comments are given with preservation of stylistics and spelling of authors:

‘I live in Luhansk and I’m interested not only in Ukrainian news from official sources, I need to know what people in social media are writing about, how they react on events. It’s impossible to read local ‘news’ from the primary source, you could become a loco… Our local ‘authorities’, you know, what news they are telling? I used to enter the ‘VK’ and ‘Odnoklassniki’ to understand the reaction of people, to understand something. You can’t see everything by your own eyes. Now there is a time, that it’s better to sit at home, sometimes we communicate only by social media’.

‘For a number of years here, in ‘VK’, for example? I have a lot of friends from Donetsk. Of course, I’m bypassing blockings, but I have a question to our Ukrainian authority: why you needed three years to give us to get used to communicate, make acquaintances, now to make such a stupid decision? Did they think about us (NGCA residents – ed.) when they decided? Or they don’t care?’.

Otherwise, there are other aspects, except a willingness/unwillingness of Ukrainians to use Russian social media. Ukrainian patriots also live on captured by ‘LPR’ and ‘DPR’ fighters areas. They had a number of reasons not to leave these territories. But, in spite of a permanent dangerous, ‘MGB’ eye and ‘curfew’, these people are looking for every opportunity to help to Ukrainian army: to give funds to volunteers or to share the information about fighters.

One of such activists reported that he knows a lot adherents only by nicknames, under which they are registered in the social media: ‘We can live on neighboring streets, but not to guess about it. Now, when I can’t enter the social media, when I really need it, I’m forced to look for the way to get an access to it, because I need to connect with people. They’d better to block half of our MPs in Rada, it could be more profitable’.

Ukrainian journalists, continuing to cooperate with their colleagues, being on NGCA, also expressed their opinion: ‘The information about the real state of affairs in the occupied zone, be it Donbass or Crimea, should be looked for 95% in social networks: people write enough to draw conclusions on various issues. And while media experts are discussing pluses and minuses of a blocking, I, as a correspondent, have already felt all the circumstances of such a step and, of course, found out the exit from this situation. The truth about situation on NGCA is more important for than this ban’.

But not everybody negatively reacted on such a prohibition. So, the resident of occupied Sevastopol reported: ‘To crash the bridges means to crash them finally. Nothing must be in Ukraine with prefix ‘ru’. I understand, why people so resented, but all this situation seems to like the injection. It’s enough for me to use Facebook and Twitter. We must get used to abandoning Russia, the FSB is enough for us … I believe that we were properly blocked. Only one is embarrassed – it was necessary to do this already a long time ago’.

‘Restriction of the right to freedom of expression’

The coordinator of the legal direction of the Vostok-SOS Charitable Foundation Alena Luneva answered on the questions whether the blocking of Russian resources violates the rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens, as well as the possible responsibility for visiting sanction sites bypassing blocking.

‘In its common sense, the ban to access electronic services and resources is the restriction of the right to freedom of expression. This right includes in itself either the right to spread an information and ideas, either to get them. The right to freedom of expression is not obsolete and could be limited by a state, but only in cases, appointed in the article #10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The interests of the National Safety are one of such a cases, but such sanctions should be prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society’, Alena reported.

She emphasized, that ‘Norm’ guaranteeing the right on freedom of thought and speech, the free expression of their views and beliefs is contained in the Constitution of Ukraine’.

Also the coordinator of the legal direction of the Vostok-SOS Charitable Foundation clarified that ‘introduced by a Decree of the President 133/2017 restrictive measures are not provided for by the current legislation of Ukraine’.

‘Even if this is about copyright infringement and the detection of pirated content, restrictive measures to access such a content are exist, but not to all the resource’, Alena Luneva noted.  

Luneva answered on the question if the application of any sanctions to those users who, despite the blocking of Russian sites, still seek ways to enter them is possible: ‘According to Art. 10 Law of Ukraine ‘On the National Security and Defense Council’, the decision of the National Security and Defense Council, enacted by the decrees of the President of Ukraine, are mandatory for execution by the executive authorities.

‘So, its regulations, in particular, the prohibition of Internet providers providing services for accessing Internet users for resources and services ‘Mail.ru’ (www.mail.ru) resources ‘VKontakte’ (www.vk.com) and ‘Odnoklassniki’ (www.Ok.ru) can be not carried out by private companies. But National Commission, made National regulation in the sphere of connection and informatization have already threatened with fines to providers if they don’t fulfill President’s decree, but it’s a controversial issue. And I’m sure that it can be and must be resolved in court. As well as in principle, the question of how lawful the restrictions of freedom of expression, established by presidential decree, and not by law, as the Constitution requires’,  the coordinator of the legal direction of the Vostok-SOS reported.

‘Anyway, there can’t be any sanctions to ordinary users of ‘forbidden’ resources and services’, Alena Luneva resumed.

 

Marina Kuraptseva for Informator.media

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