Ukraine to block access to Russia’s social media websites

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MOSCOW (AP) — In another round of sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday ordered the blocking of access to Russia’s most popular social media websites and search engines.

Poroshenko’s office on Tuesday published the decree that he signed a day earlier, freezing the assets and banning the operations of hundreds of Russian companies in Ukraine. The decree also calls for blocking access to dozens of Russia’s most popular websites for three years, including the search engine Yandex, social media network VKontakte and the email provider Mail.ru. All of them have a substantial audience in Ukraine.

All of the websites were accessible in Ukraine on Tuesday afternoon and it was not immediately clear when and how the Ukrainian government was going to enforce the ban. Unlike Russia, which has in the recent years adopted and enforced a plethora of legislation to crack down on independent websites and online media, Ukraine does not have laws and regulations in place that would allow such a ban.

The ban dismayed many journalists and public figures in Kiev who saw it as an attempt to match Russia’s repressive legislation.

Poroshenko “should not have copycatted the Russians, it will attract criticism from our international partners as well as at home,” said Kiev-based independent analyst Volodymyr Fesenko.

Most of the internet and media companies banned by Ukraine are privately owned and have grown over the past decades from start-ups working out of a basement to major international businesses.

Yandex, a NASDAQ-traded company that posted $14.5 million in net profit in the first quarter of the year, in a statement on Tuesday described the ban as “sanctions against 11 million Ukrainian users who use our services, against thousands of Ukrainian companies that use our technology and service to develop their businesses.”

Yandex said it does not expect the ban to hurt the company financially but it expressed regret that “the sanctions do away with many years of hard work by our team.”

Another Russian firm on the sanctions list, the cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab, said in a statement that it expects its products such as anti-virus software to be available in Ukraine despite the ban.