I don’t normally do two posts in one day, but since I learned about the Ukrainian government’s recent decision to block Yandex, VKontakte (VK), and certain other Russian social networking sites, I can’t keep silent. I don’t really use VK or Yandex anymore, but for other reasons I won’t get into, this really struck a personal chord with me.
Suffice it to say that I have, in recent times, become intimately acquainted with Ukraine’s still Soviet Union-like bureaucracy. At times it has proven even more backward than that of Russia. I will also state that this kind bureaucracy exists in a sphere that is vital to Ukraine’s national security and its ability to defend itself against a certain foreign invasion and occupation (none of this knowledge is even remotely secret or even obscure, just so you know). Without going into detail I will say that Ukraine’s war effort is concretely hindered by such backwardness, just as it is hindered by endemic corruption. So imagine my rage when the latest “patriotic” outburst from the authorities is not in fact a sweeping reform meant to clean up this clusterfuck or any major corruption issues, but rather a very Kremlin-like decision to ban several social networks, including ones people use for their email.
First let me smack down a few arguments I’ve heard in favor of the ban.
Yes, VK and the other social network are potential security risks (at the user level) and yes, they can be a vector for Russian propaganda. On the other hand, both of these work both ways. Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) investigators have used sites like VK to determine the location of Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory, along with other vital pieces of information. VK is still being used by OSINT gatherers because even now it seems the Russian military has not yet developed the concept of OPSEC. And as for the propaganda and Kremlin-linked pages, these also provided crucial information to Ukrainian and pro-Ukrainian activists and investigators, who not surprisingly often do a far better job than the governments’ organs. That’s basically over now.
And speaking of propaganda, the Russian press is having a field day with the news. While Russia has banned thousands of sites, they’ve only banned one social network so far, and it’s the one everyone hates- LinkedIn. But this recent move must have Russia’s state media bosses popping champagne, because this fits their narrative perfectly.
Remember the main message of Kremlin propaganda. It isn’t that Russia is so great or better than the West. Rather it is that everywhere else is just as bad, and that trying to make improvements will just destabilize your already-bad situation and make it worse. Moreover, the Russian state media insists that things like freedom of press and freedom of speech are just illusions. This is why one favorite trope of Russian propaganda is to publish videos which were supposedly “banned in the US!” The bottom line of almost everything they put out is that everybody’s bad, so why bother striving for something that’s just a mirage? The Ukrainian government has pulled some pretty Kremlin-like moves before, but nothing like this to date, and this can’t even really be called Kremlin-like since the Russian government hasn’t even reached that point yet.
Another argument is that this is justified because there is a war. Very well- fight the war then. Launch an offensive, shore up positions, and/or reach out to the population to mobilize them for defense. Do something other than piddly bullshit that just makes you look worse and doesn’t actually hurt Russia in any way. This is what Ukrainian politicians are doing in order to avoid actually fighting the war. Doing that might force them to curtail or *gasp!* cease their own personal enrichment. Thousands of ordinary Ukrainians have made sacrifices, even the ultimate sacrifice in this war, but the leadership sure as hell doesn’t want to sacrifice anything.
I might also add that VK and other Russian social networks haven’t been doing anything now that they weren’t already doing since the war began in the spring of 2014. If it’s right to ban them now and this banning is necessary for the war effort, why wasn’t this done back in 2014, 2015, or even 2016? Why hasn’t all trade with Russia been subject to sanctions since 2014? I’ll tell you why- because this excuse is bullshit.
Having got those objections out of the way, let me say that while my loyalty to Ukraine’s cause is unshaken, I am now more convinced than ever that Ukraine’s “leadership” is in no way serious about fighting this war. They’d rather go to the West with their hand out in hopes that if they look pitiful enough big-brother NATO will step in and solve the situation somehow. I say “solve” because what I think they’d much rather see Russia just go back to the status quo border-wise so they can continue making lucrative deals with their Russian counterparts while simultaneously reaping the benefits of European Union integration. I don’t trust any of these people any further than I could throw them.
Am I shouting “ZRADA!!!” (Treason!)? No. To accuse them of treason is to suggest that you had some faith in them in the beginning. I don’t put any faith in politicians or governments; I’ve put my faith in the Ukrainian people and their repeatedly-demonstrated abilities for self-organization. I can only hope more will realize their own powers and abilities and reject the narrow range of views proffered by these clowns who call themselves leaders.
I think this just shows how precarious the situation is for those inside and outside of Ukraine who truly want the country to succeed. It is a constant struggle against foreign aggression in front and mind-numbing incompetence and corruption in the rear. For my part I’ll keep fighting the good fight, but I won’t be doing it on VKontakte, that’s for sure.