Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Finally, President Zelenskyy began to reconquer the Ukrainian information space occupied by Russian propaganda

The first decade of February was marked by an extraordinary event in the field of resistance to the Russian hybrid war. The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy by his signature immediately put into effect the decision of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) «On the application of personal special economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions)» - and as a result at the same day, three national channels stopped their broadcasting: 112, News One and ZIK.

Member of Parliament Taras Kozak, who was sanctioned is a representative of the party that openly advocates the renovation of contacts with Russia under any circumstances «Opposition Platform – For Life». However, Kozak is considered to be just a formal owner of blocked channels, it is believed that in fact they are in ownership of Viktor Medvedchuk, who is considered by many in the country to be «an internal Ukrainian agent of the Kremlin». According to the latest opinion polls, support for sanctions one week after the introduction it increased by 7% and is now 57%, while 37% are against sanctions. There is no unanimity on the international arena on this issue. Official support for this decision has been received from the G7 and the United States, on the other hand there is no official response from the EU. The International and European Federations of Journalists condemn the imposition of sanctions against the three TV channels, as does the Russian Federation, which is concerned about the situation.

Later, the President's Office said that sanctions against Kozak were imposed because he used coal supply schemes from the Russian-occupied territories of Donbas, and this could help finance terrorism. And sanctions against the channels were justified by funding from Russia. Office of the President also noted that channels were blocked in order to protect the national security of the country. However, on Wednesday morning, the biggest intrigue was how Kyiv's Western partners, who closely monitor the state of freedom of speech in Ukraine, would react to the events around Medvedchuk's channels. According to their reaction, the Ukrainian authorities can breathe a sigh of relief: they have not been criticized for violations of freedom of speech, what is discussed on closed TV channels which continue their broadcast on YouTube.

The United States supports efforts to counter Russia's hostile influence, while Brussels has reacted more cautiously. Foreign diplomatic service representative reminded that freedom of speech is of a great importance for the EU, and any measures taken by the Government on the independent media should be proportionate to the aim.

The decision of the Ukrainian authorities was predictably criticized in Moscow. Russian reticence reaction towards what is happening with the media, which many people consider as pro-Russian and which are associated with Viktor Medvedchuk, has forced many analysts to recognize that the Ukrainian authorities have calculated the operation of turning off TV channels almost perfect. In this situation, in which the Russian government cannot provide support in Ukraine for their sympathizers in the full-scale volume because pays full attention to the fight against demonstrations by Navalny's supporters and unconstructive dialogue with the West, which accuses the Kremlin of persecuting the opposition.


The consequences of such a tangible blow to Russian propaganda in Ukraine may concern not only the sphere of combating Russian information aggression, but also the domestic political situation in the country.

Theoretically, the imposition of sanctions by Zelenskyy against «Medvedchuk channels» that play a significant role in raising the rating «OPFL» will enable the President of Ukraine: first, to wrest from the hands of Viktor Medvedchuk key instrument of propaganda that is likely to stop growing popularity of his party; secondly, to increase their assets among voters who have a negative attitude to the very fact of broadcasting «pro-Russian» channels in Ukraine. 

After all, one of the key motives for Zelensky's criticism by his patriotic opponents is allegations of an overly peaceful policy toward Moscow. After such a move as the decisive closure of «Medvedchuk's channels», which is called «correct but illegal» by some experts, critics of the president will have to come up with new accusations against Zelenskyy in order to further discredit him.

The problem is that Ukraine does not consult on this situation and trust in the state, which can urgently limit the activities of the media of any kind in a day, can fall and cause worry even among our partners. According to Foreign Minister Kuleba - Ukraine had not negotiated and consulted with its partners on the matter of sanction on the eve of their imposition and it was adequate as it is Ukraine's internal affair to counter Russia's information influence. However, the continuing inertia of diplomatic missions, which should conduct on-site clarifications on sanctions, raises questions about what opinions will be formed in the information vacuum, where Ukraine does not provide arguments, and the world's journalists' unions and institutions for freedom of speech, Russia, they are actively filling the vacuum of understanding of the situation, which our state should fill in the first place, because it is an image and reputation, the high level of which is an important indicator in today's world - a marker for other countries to form an impression of the counterparty.

Another problem that will not allow to spread the Ukrainian point of view even now is the fact that it simply will not have a basis for substantiation. The fact that the authorities have not released the results of the investigation of Security Service of Ukraine, which, in fact, have led to the imposition of sanctions, does not assess the validity of the decision of NSDC and therefore in the case of prioritization of the promotion on the international arena, own views on the event will be ineffective, because it will be offset by the non-transparency activities. Another problem is the constitutionality of the decision, but due to the lack of published evidence, it is impossible to assess the correctness of the actions.

The West supports Ukraine in opposition to Russian aggression and has no doubt about its commitment to democratic values, but the very fact of failure to advance one's point of view is an important negative signal. At other times, such a weakness could do a great damage to Ukraine's prospects for European integration and cooperation with certain partners.