On May 16, Ukraine put the Russian social networks VKontakte and Odnoklassniki on the sanctions list. The Ukrainian president signed a decree affirming the ruling of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) from April 28 to expand the list of physical and legal entities with sanctions against them.
Which companies are on the sanctions list ?
In total there are 1228 physical persons and 468 companies on the updated list. Firstly, Ukraine has introduced sanctions against the major Russian internet companies, simultaneously blocking access to their resources. All the Yandex services (also with the Ukrainian domain .ua), as well as Mail.ru and the social networks VKontakte and Odnoklassniki which it controls also came under sanctions. NSDC Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov told journalists that it was the Ukrainian Security Service which initiated the blocking of Yandex.
Ukrainian providers will be obligated to block access to these resources for three years. The antivirus sites Kaspersky Lab and DrWeb are also on the list. Furthermore, the dictionary and text recognition developer ABBYY and the accounting program 1C are also banned.
According to the Ukrainian Internet Association, the domains VKontakte, Yandex, Odnoklassniki and Mail.ru are some of the most visited in Ukraine. The average daily audience share values in March this year were 52% for Vkontakte, 41% for Yandex, 33% for Odnoklassniki and 31% for Mail.ru.
From the media, TV channels RBK, NTV, Channel 1, Russia 24, TV Tsentr, VGTRK, Zvesda, TNT, Moscow 24, REN and the state information agency Russia Today were banned. Sberbank, Gazprom Bank, Rossiya Bank and RNKB also came under the ban.
When the Russian sites will be blocked ?
The ban on accessing the mentioned sites is supposed to come into force no later than June 1, 2017. The decree signed by the president should be released in the national language in the official publications no later than 15 days after signing. However, NSDC Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov said that it [the decree] has already come into force, and the government and SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) must work on a way to implement it.
With reference to a source in telecommunication, the news outlet 24tv.ua reported that internet service providers are prepared to block the Russian social networks and search engines as early as May 17-18, as soon as the president’s decree is released in the official publications. According to the source, internet service providers are coordinating technical aspects.
On the other hand, Oleksandr Fedienko, chairman of the Ukrainian Internet Association said that to completely block all Russian sites would require nearly two years and $1 billion.
“Most likely we will not block the sites, but every autonomous system in which these sites are found, and others not specified in the sanctions. In the end result, the user will be deprived not only of access to networks such as VKontakte, but also to other platforms which are in this system,” Fedienko explained.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko pointed out that such actions from Ukraine are required by “the conditions of the hybrid war which Russia is waging against Ukraine”.
“Russia’s massive cyber-attacks on the whole world, notably the recent interference in the electoral campaign in France, indicate that the time has come to act differently and more decisively,” Poroshenko posted on his own VKontakte page. The publication also stated that all the president’s official pages on the “sanctioned” services would be closed.
The Kremlin has already commented on the news. Dmitry Peskov, Press Secretary to the Russian President, spoke about the “principle of reciprocity”. Peskov added that he is not yet prepared to state what kind of countermeasures Russia will take. The Kremlin also considers the sanctions introduced by Kyiv a hostile and shortsighted step.
In turn, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called Russia’s statements the epitome of irony. “The aggressor, who, against all norms, occupied the Crimea and is waging war in the Donbas, is talking about law and morality. The epitome of irony,” emphasized Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Mariana Betsa.
What the companies on the sanctioned list say ?
The company Mail.ru Group said that it has never been involved in politics and it has not violated a single Ukrainian law. The company also urged people to bypass the blocking, and intends to continue to operate.
Representatives of VKontakte said that it will protect the interests of its users.
“The company VKontakte has always bypassed external politics. We believe that by its nature the internet has no borders”. Later, Ukrainian users of VKontakte received a message on how to bypass the NSDC’s ban on the Russian social network.
“On the internet there are detailed instructions on how to avoid losing your contacts and important information. For example, here,” the social network team wrote, attaching a link to its own page with instructions. VKontakte’s message in the link explains how to bypass the blocking on a computer and on mobile devices.
Yandex Ukraine said that it is too big, and that the Ukrainian sanctions will not affect it. The press center also noted that these are sanctions against 11 million Ukrainian users, “who chose our services monthly, and against thousands of Ukrainian organizations who use our technology and services to develop their own businesses”.
However, it should be noted that during trade on the Moscow Exchange, Yandex shares fell by 3.3% in light of the Ukrainian sanctions against the company’s activity and all its services in Ukrainian territory.