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Ukraine begins a NatSec policy push-back against The Kremlin?

May 27, 2017

Interesting (and many will claim long overdue) events are occurring with regard to the tesserae that make up the mosaic of Ukrainian national security push-back against Kremlin active measures.

They will be viewed by many, quite genuinely (perhaps more so from without rather than within the Ukrainian domestic constituency), as troublesome through lenses (universal freedoms and domestic politics etc) other than national security.

Rightly policy cannot be viewed through a single lens – it is the role of government to decide the view through which lens takes priority – at least as far as the official narrative is concerned (regardless of any other beneficial or counterproductive overlap).

The trade off between national security and freedoms (and domestic political repercussions), which rub against each other continually in many nations, will be subjected to scrutiny – intensified in Ukraine despite, or because of, the on-going physical and bloody war of exhaustion in eastern Ukraine and the equally hostile and continuous diplomatic, economic, social, cultural and cyberspace offensives against infrastructure and psychological operations (notwithstanding the occasional reflexive control operation for good measure).

Ukraine has long since banned many Russia TV stations and radio stations from broadcasting across the nation.

Broadcasting in the Ukrainian language have seen quotas introduced via statute for both national and local media (as does France for example).  Almost all broadcasters comply with existing statute – there is no reason to believe that almost all will not comply with future statute.

There are some notable national exceptions such as Inter (for obvious reasons) and, perhaps also TCN.

However, over the past 10 days Ukraine has moved to ban, and in doing so at the very least place hurdles in the way of accessing, Russian dominated (and security services associated) social media websites VK (VKontakte) and Odnoklassniki, as well as Mail.RU, Yandex, Kaspersky and 1C.

Many will view this as an attempt to de-Russify the Ukrainian Internet space – not necessarily for national security reasons claimed – but they are nonetheless unable to entirely dismiss that official narrative as it is well known that the Russian security services have unhealthy relationships with such software.

A list of at least 20 websites with distinctly anti-Ukrainian content has now been forwarded to the NSDC with a request to ban access to them in Ukraine.

A reader can make arguments for not restricting them – Let’s turn to the European Court of Human Rights as see what they have to say – “… tolerance and respect for the equal dignity of all human beings constitute the foundations of a democratic, pluralistic society. That being so, as a matter of principle it may be considered necessary in certain democratic societies to sanction or even prevent all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance…”

However with a weighty caveat, the ECfHR goes on to say, ”the Court is also careful to make a distinction in its findings between, on the one hand, genuine and serious incitement to extremism and, on the other hand, the right of individuals (including journalists and politicians) to express their views freely and to “offend, shock or disturb” others. – (Chamber judgment Erbakan v. Turkey, no. 59405/00, § 56, 6.07.2006)

Or a reader can make equally reasonable arguments for blocking them, for there are limits to tolerance – “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. – In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be most unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.” – Sir Karl Popper

Thus the banning of certain websites is perhaps a logical progression of the official (rather than other and/or additional) rationale behind banning VK and Odnoklassniki social media is that of national security and hostile Russian societal penetration.  How could access to distinctly anti-Ukrainian websites continue to be acceptable and not appear to be a half-arsed policy after the social media bans?

If the listed websites are to be banned, a reader can be fairly sure that such a policy will become something akin to “wack-a-mole” with websites no sooner being banned than new ones appearing.

It is perhaps far more difficult to deal with, and “wrap up/roll up” virtual networks than physical ones.

It is also unclear just how effective Kremlin on-line attempts to warp the Ukrainian constituency thinking has been.  Naturally it is impossible to refute every Kremlin lie, manipulation, half-truth and otherwise subversive prose relating to Ukraine and/or its leadership that is emitted.  That is equally true of attempting to ban such efforts.  Of course the biggest and boldest of lies and bizarre framings must necessarily be rebuffed and debunked, but in doing so the content (and context) also requires robust and continuing framing as part of an on-going assault upon Ukraine with as much vigour and attention to detail as that afforded to the debunking.

Ergo the effectiveness of the newly launched on-line policy will be somewhat subjective when those that continue to gain access to that which is banned do so for the same questionable reasons they did before, whilst other benign souls that were never a national security risk simply move to alternatives.  Indeed how policy success will be measured remains unclear with regard to national security outcomes 3 years and counting into an on-going war.  Better late than never?  Or better never late?

The Verkhovna Rada legislature has within its number those that have over the past week raised the possibility – to be clear only a possibility – via Draft Bills 4128 (providing statute to facilitate congregational moves from Moscow to Kyiv patriarchate – which is already occurring de facto) and 4511 (which for far too many oversteps the boundaries of State and Church secularisation despite known Russian security service infiltration) of eventually passing legislation that would directly confront the influence and reach of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine (albeit wrapped in wording to avoid such obvious intent).

As Visa-free travel with the Schengen nations of the European Union commences with effect from 11th June, calls are now mounting within the Verkhovna Rada to introduce a Visa regime with Russia – naturally for reasons of at the very least controlling continued infiltration and criminality from a very hostile northern neighbour.

Detractors will naturally cite large numbers of Ukrainians that, with almost guaranteed reciprocity, would require Visas for Russia.  Bureaucratic casualties in an on-going war on many fronts.

Whether the introduction of Visas for Russians (perhaps going someway, indirectly, to meeting the designs of Draft Bill 4511) and facilitating statute (Draft Bill 4128) for patriarchate loyalty swaps become a legal reality remains to be seen, but a reader may ponder quite rightly whether these proposals would actually provide a far greater national security gain than policy that prima facie seeks to free Ukrainian Internet space from Russian influence 3 years into a war and that may well be past its peak influence operational effectiveness.

If influence operation effectiveness past its peak some years ago in Ukraine, do not the physical networks become more of a national security priority?

Peering through other lenses, those of domestic politics and universal freedoms, naturally provides a different view of events – so it remains to be seen whether tackling the physical infiltration networks will be viewed in a similar way to that of the virtual when consideration should be given to domestic political timetables.

Nevertheless the tesserae are there to be seen even if not yet placed (ill-fitting or not) into the UKrainian national security mosaic..

The question is what the mosaic presents to a reader when viewed – and for those that prefer black and white imagery, it would be wise to recall R v Turnball.

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