President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko has put his signature on a decree which extends sanctions against Russia over to the digital domain. The decree was signed on Tuesday and it does a number of things, one of which is blocking access to Russian social networks such as VKontakte and Odnoklassniki. The Russian based search engine, email provider and a popular replacement for google in this part of Europe is also to be blocked completely. The decree text can be found on the official website of Ukraine’s head of state.
Poroshenko’s decree also blocked the site of the Russian cybersecurity giant Kaspersky Labs and will ban several major Russian television channels and banks, as well as the popular business software developer 1C. Access to the Mail.ru group websites will also be blocked, as well as those of the Kaspersky anti-virus company and DrWeb. The freezing of assets and a ban on transactions and broadcasting, were also introduced against the largest Russian television networks and media outlets. Yandex, VK, and Odnoklassniki are the leading websites of the Ukrainian-language segment of Internet. Ukraine is VK’s second largest market after Russia.
The Ukrainian president said (on his official VK page) that he had tried to use Russian social networks to fight Russia’s propaganda war. Asked about the possibility of counter-sanctions, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman told journalists that he wasn’t prepared to say but that Russia had not “forgotten about the principle of reciprocity”.
Some Ukrainian politicians supported the ban, thinking revenge on Russian-backed separatists, which have at least 10,000 deaths on their hands since 2014. Volodymyr Ariev, an MP, believes social media networks to be a security threat, gathering valuable intelligence on state employees and soldiers.
More than 11,000 people responded to an online poll on the UNIAN site on Tuesday afternoon, and 66% being “categorically against” the ban of VK, Yandex etc. Another 11% said it would be easier to “ban the whole internet, like in North Korea”. Not likely to happen, but it is a step towards something the Chinese have – The great firewall of China, part of the Golden Shield Project.
Others believe Poroshenko to be withdrawing Ukraine’s “armchair warriors” from foreign social media. “By banning VK and Odnoklassniki, we’re basically admitting our inability to counter Russian propaganda in cyberspace,” one blogger wrote in a post on the InformResist site.
Ukraine has previously blacklisted pro-Russian western actors Gérard Depardieu and more recently Steven Seagal as “persona non grata”. Seagal was declared a threat to national security.