Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

New escalation of information war against V. Zelenskyy under the pretext of «protection of freedom of speech»

It is well known that big business has been influencing Ukrainian politics for more than twenty years. The interests of various groups intertwined in the country, which throughout the period of independence divided Ukraine into spheres of influence, hindered the development of the state by monopolizing business, and formed the necessary public opinion through the media. This system dates back to the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when former party officials, regional clans, and criminal authorities appropriated state assets during the privatization process. Privatization was supposed to be mass, but it became a means of enrichment for a narrow circle of people. The oligarchic clan system did not meet with resistance from any of the presidents, on the contrary, some heads of state were part of this system. Volodymyr Zelenskyy became the first President of Ukraine to undertake the destruction of this vicious circle in order to limit the power of big business and groups influencing Ukrainian politics and further build inclusive state institutions.

The current government has already taken three important steps in this direction: first, it has begun the process of regulating the media in Ukraine, second, it has taken appropriate measures to combat organized crime, and third, it has passed a law on oligarchs. As the process of de-oligarchization gains momentum, Volodymyr Zelenskyy's policies are increasingly criticized, met with pressure and attempts to undermine these initiatives by groups seeking to retain power. The active struggle against the oligarchs began in January. Back then, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine closed Viktor Medvedchuk's pro-Russian channels. Then the National Security and Defense Council decided to return the «Samara-Western direction» oil pipeline to state ownership. SSU investigators and NABU detectives found that Prykarpatzakhidtrans LLC, owned by people close to the head of the OPZZh party, illegally seized state property worth more than 200 million hryvnias on the basis of knowingly forged documents.[1] After that, the National Security and Defense Council imposed sanctions on Medvedchuk, his wife and the formal owner of his business, Oksana Marchenko, and a number of individuals and legal entities close to him. Also, the Security Service of Ukraine gradually, starting in June, published talks between Viktor Medvedchuk with Russian representatives and so-called LDPR militants at the beginning of the conflict in Donbas, which contained material confirming Medvedchuk's anti-Ukrainian activities. After the recordings were published, Vladimir Putin's daughter's godfather was suspected of treason, and while the trial continues, he is now under house arrest.

The fight against crime and smugglers also takes place through the mechanisms of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine. In May, Ukraine imposed personal sanctions against 557 thieves-in-law and 111 foreigners who are criminal authorities. As Volodymyr Zelenskyy explained, the following measures were applied to all these persons: blocking of assets, ban on entry into the country, refusal to issue or cancel a visa or temporary and permanent residence permit as well as immigration permit, refusal to extend the stay in Ukraine, impossibility of acquiring citizenship and forced expulsion.[2] One of the versions of the September assassination attempt on the First Assistant to the President of Ukraine Serhiy Shefir is that the motive was the revenge of a person from the list of criminals who fell under sanctions. It is noteworthy that a number of Ukrainian channels owned by the oligarchs covered the event as a deliberate provocation by the state leadership.

The bias and criticism of Zelensky's policies from the media has intensified especially since the adoption of the anti-oligarchic law. In particular, Rinat Akhmetov's TV channels aired programs in which the presenters made fun of the president's initiatives in a mocking manner. On the air of one of the country's most popular political programs, Savik Shuster`s «Freedom of Speech», journalists, in particular, the editor of the media which fell under the sanctions of the NSDC and which is funded from Russia, criticized the Ukrainian president for allegedly infringing the freedom of speech. It should be noted that the journalists, who are allegedly prohibited to talk about the issues that they consider necessary to discuss by authorities, during the broadcast got personal in discussions with the rulling party representatives, and also accused them of bribery. When asked if they had any evidence, the journalist replied she has no evidence, but «everyone knows about it».

However, it should be noted that Savik Shuster, who provides his platform for manipulations and similar information attacks on President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was deprived of the opportunity to be present on the Ukrainian air during the presidency of Petro Poroshenko. Instead, after the election of Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a president, Mr. Shuster has returned to the country and continued his journalistic work without hindrance. Now, after the Verkhovna Rada has passed a presidential-initiated law on de-oligarchization and announced plans to pass a law on the media that would limit the influence of business groups on the government, Savik Shuster criticizes the government for «pressure» on the media. This is a good confirmation of the urgency of the adoption of this law.

In the current conditions of political pluralism in Ukraine and the lack of tools that would regulate the media, the manipulation of citizens' consciousness becomes a danger to state stability and strategic course. The media in the country must be free, at the same time, guided by certain rules and high journalistic standards, which would ensure the greatest possible objectivity and independence of the media. It is worth noting that most democracies have created a fairly strict system of media regulation. For example, in Germany there is no special law, but there is such a criteria as operational responsibility. In other words, the person who maintains, for example, a website is also responsible for its content. And this applies, of course, to the media, online versions of newspapers or broadcasters. But the same applies to regular users who keep their own website. Such person is responsible for the content of this page. And if there is false information or even manipulation or, for example, incitement to illegal activities, then for such serious violations is the responsibility of the holder of the resource.[3]

The anti-oligarchic initiatives of Volodymyr Zelenskyy are unprecedented steps in Ukrainian politics, which for decades has been under external influence from big business. At the same time, these efforts are met with resistance on the way to their implementation. This problem became especially acute after the adoption of the relevant law. This event coincided with the publication of an article by Dmitry Medvedev, in which the former Russian president went personal, criticizing the current President of Ukraine in a dismissive manner. Criticism from the Russian authorities, Ukrainian media, pro-Russian channels, as well as those belonging to the oligarchs Petro Poroshenko and Rinat Akhmetov indicates that these forces act as a united front for the preservation of the existing oligarchic-clan system, beneficial for the elites that now exist as well as for Russian Federation. Successful implementation of the initiatives of Volodymyr Zelenskyy can change Ukraine and open the way for deeper democratic transformations. In this context, the support from the partner countries - the EU and the USA, which have already expressed a positive assessment of these initiatives, is important. [4] [5]