U.S. officials say they are closely following Ukraine’s order blocking access to a number of Russian websites in the latest round of sanctions over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
The U.S. State Department has not taken an official position on the matter. However a U.S. official on background told VOA that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s recent decision to cut access to several popular Russian websites, such as search engine Yandex, for three years, undermines Kyiv’s constitutionally enshrined right to free expression.
Despite Russian-controlled media campaigns that seek to undermine Western media—and the Ukrainian government—with fake stories and false information, “freedom of expression is a key element of every healthy democracy, and it is enshrined in the Ukrainian Constitution.”
“We call on the Ukrainian government to find a way to protect its national interests that does not undermine its constitutional principles,” the official said.
Asked if there was any communication between U.S. and Ukrainian officials prior to Poroshenko’s announcement of the ban, the official said although they could not comment on private diplomatic conversations regarding specific issues, “we have routinely engaged in conversations with the government of Ukraine about the importance of upholding free expression.”
The listed websites were still functioning in Ukraine on Tuesday, and it is unclear how and when the government plans to block them.
The Ukrainian government cited security concerns, saying the ban was imposed partly to protect against companies “whose activities threaten the information and cyber security of Ukraine,” according to a statement released by the Security and Defense Council.
The latest round of sanctions adds Yandex and social media sites Odnoklassniki and Vkontakte to the list of over 400 Russian firms blacklisted by Kyiv since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and consequent pro-Russian separatist uprising in 2014. According to the Reuters news agency, the Kremlin has threatened retaliation.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Ukrainian Service.