A couple of weeks ago, Ukraine passed an edict banning access to a host of Russian web services including VKontakte and Odnoklassniki (Russia’s Facebook, and most popular social network in Ukraine, with 13 million users; Odnoklassniki is 4th, with 9 million users; for comparison, Facebook is 8th with 5.6 million users, though tellingly it is where the country’s political elites tussle), Yandex (Google, and 5th and 11th most popular website in Ukraine for the .ua and .ru domain, respectively), Kaspersky (Europe’s foremost anti-virus software), mail.ru (an email service that is the 7th most popular site in Ukraine), and 1c accounting software (the foremost accounting software in Eurasia due to its competitive pricing and regular updates to comply with the latest labyrinth regulations of post-Soviet bureacracies).
As pretty much everyone except Ukrainian nationalists agreed, this was a stupid and self-defeating move anyway you look at it. It will create headaches for normal people and for the small businesses who rely on 1c accounting software (as if they don’t have enough problems already, what with the collapse of the Ukrainian economy and the Maidan regime’s total failure to make headway against corruption).
It doesn’t look any good from a “democratist” perspective. The only halfway comparable block in Russia is with respect to LinkedIn for its refusal to store its data in Russia. That said, sitting here in Moscow, I can open it just fine even without using VPN or other roundabout methods, which brings up another problem: Implementing such censorship is harder than it looks. It requires money that Ukraine doesn’t have. So any attempt to implement this ban seriously will have to be borne by Internet providers, which in turn will pass it onto the consumer. Not good for the country with Europe’s lowest Internet penetration rate (including Moldova).
In any case, segregating the Ukrainian Internet from Runet is doomed to failure anyway, considering that it is mostly to overwhelmingly Russophone outside the far west.
Map of Russian/Ukrainian language usage on Vkontakte in 2013.
It might work after half a century of aggressive Ukrainization, but not today, when at least 80% of intellectual culture in Ukraine is carried on in the Russian language, despite the best efforts of Soviet Ukrainianizationists.
Finally, even bad optics aside and impracticality aside, Russia remains by far Ukraine’s biggest investor – some 38% of the total as of 2016 – so scaring off the Russian companies that remain there with armed secret police raids and “treason” charges, as recently done on Yandex’s Kiev office, seems pretty stupid.
And really, if these sites are all such a big threat to Ukraine, why didn’t it ban them back in 2014?
Two possible reasons. Maybe Poroshenko was really butthurt about the Russian tax authorities finally shutting down his chocolate factory in Lipetsk. Alternatively, and more plausibly, this was done to appease svidomy Ukrainian nationalists for a few more weeks. They have a good track record of forcing the weak Ukrainian state into acceding to and formalizing actions that it doesn’t really want to do, such as the Donbass blockade. Of course as I pointed out earlier the nationalists themselves are mostly tools of oligarchic groups who are themselves opposed to Poroshenko. Online as in real life, it is ordinary people who have the pay as the high lords play their game of thrones.