The ban on Russian internetsites in Ukraine is useless, counterproductive and ineffective. It threatens to push the country in a more authoritarian direction. These are Putinist methods, argues political analyst Kostiantyn Fedorenko from Kiev. 'Europe harshly criticized internet limitations in Turkey; it should be as harsh towards Ukraine.'

404 ban in Ukraine cartoonUkrainian cartoon: Oops, go back to Homepage

by Kostiantyn Fedorenko

In Ukrainian society there is a broad consensus that Russia is supporting the separatist armed forces in the east of Ukraine. For that reason economic sanctions against Russia generally do not cause any debate. But the presidential decree of May 17 with a list of new legal entities that will be prohibited in Ukraine is different.

It hits at developers of popular software products, such as Kaspersky antivirus or 1C. But people are mostly affected by the banning of several popular Russian web companies and an order for Internet service providers to prohibit access to websites like social networks VKontakte (VK.com) and Odnoklassniki (class mates), e-mail service Mail.ru and Yandex, a search engine that also provides money transfer, mapping and several other popular services.

All of these sites are in the top-6 of most visited in Ukraine. An average daily share for VK is 53% of all Ukrainian web users; after Google it is the second most popular resource in Ukraine (only 19% of the web audience in Ukraine uses Facebook on a daily basis).

The public outcry, therefore, comes as no surprise. Opponents of the ban called the decision a violation of freedom of speech and information; there were minor protest rallies and petitions. Dmytro Likhachev, a lawyer from Kharkiv, wants to fight the ban at the European Court of Human Rights. Organizations like Human Rights Watch and Freedom House have also voiced their concerns.

Supporters of the ban stress the need for internet security against both Russian propaganda and the Russian security services – the latter, for instance, have broad access to VK user data. Activists who support the Ukrainian military, and who have lobbied the ban, claim that data leaks from these services on several occasions have damaged the activities of the Ukrainian army, which resulted in human casualties. While Ukraine is at war, its security should prevail above protection of freedom of information. However, the lobbyists don’t pay attention to the proportionality of the measures.

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