Why is it not Beneficial for Russia to Organize Cyber Operations, and why Should Programmers Reject Working for the Kremlin
Nowadays, governments, private entities and hacktivists are becoming more skilled and have gained more tools to expose those behind cyberattacks. When it comes to large-scale attacks, experts often identify Russia.
Russian and foreign programmers who participate in Kremlin-organized cyberattacks can intentionally or unintentionally reveal their employers’ names and air any information publicly. They thus facilitate the attribution of cyberattacks to foreign entities and this, in turn, causes international incidents.
Although these programmers work with special services, they are not professional intelligence officers, but only hired hackers. More often, the Kremlin has simply “found” them because they had previously broken the law, giving the Kremlin leverage to coerce them to collaborate.
In 2013, Russian Deputy Minister of Defence Oleg Ostapenko stated that they were forming special units – scientific squads that could include hackers with criminal backgrounds. In the same year, cyber-criminal Oleksii Belan was arrested in Greece at the request of the United States, but he escaped extradition and fled to Russia. He was trapped there and forced to work with special services to avoid further criminal charges. At the behest of Russian intelligence and with the help of another “hacker-mercenary” from Canada, he carried out cyber attacks on Yahoo.
In some cases, by employing hackers, the Kremlin uses the motivation of patriotism (national pride) and offers the revenge on Western structures that allegedly downplay Russian values and the idea of the “russkiy mir” (“Russian world”). For patriotic or other reasons, even anti-Kremlin activists “justify Moscow”, convincing others that the Kremlin is not always responsible for the cyberattacks attributed to it.
In his speech “Behind the Digital Curtain”, held in Brussels last summer, activist Aleksandr Isavnin, with the Russian opposition public organization “Roskomsvoboda”, asserted that not all the attacks for which Russia is blamed were carried out with the Kremlin’s support, including the “NotPetya” cyberattack, which is associated with Russia by most experts. He believes that, by conducting these attacks, ordinary programmers are testing their capabilities.
To properly identify the perpetrators, one should determine the beneficiaries of cyberattacks, and whether they can be conducted under a foreign name when servers in other countries are being used specifically.
On the other hand, IT companies which accept the offer to work for the Kremlin in the cyber sphere compromise themselves, losing their reputation and profits. For instance, in 2014, the Italian company Hacking Team lost its export license because it sold hacking iPhone software to the Russian company Advanced Monitoring, which works with the Federal Security Service.
In any case, when the attacks are exposed, Moscow denies its involvement. Despite holding public hacking campaigns to employ hackers, Moscow does not recognize that they work for it, and abandons them when they get into trouble. At the same time, hackers themselves, and their families, risk financial or legal consequences and, when trapped in Russia, cannot travel to Europe for study, vacation, or work.
In May 2019, the European Union decided that these hackers would be subject to a similar sanctions regime as applied to those charged with the use of prohibited chemical weapons. The sanctions include asset freezing and entry bans.
In 2014, the first criminal case on a large-scale hacking operation sponsored by Russia was opened in the USA. Russian spies Dmytro Dokuchaiev and Igor Sushchin paid two programmers, a Canadian of Kazakh origin, Karim Baratov, and the above mentioned Latvian citizen Oleksii Belan, to crack 6,000 Yahoo accounts and get the information of another half billion users. British intelligence MI-5 played a key role in the detection of this attack. Baratov was sentenced to five years in prison, while Belan was listed as “the most wanted criminal” in the United States. Dmytro Dokuchaiev was arrested in Moscow on suspicion of sharing information with foreign intelligence.
Programmers should be aware of the fact that, even if the operations are ordered by the government, they still bear criminal responsibility. Hackers may even risk their lives. For example, in June 2019 a new form of war was launched – physical destruction in response to digital aggression. Namely, in response to a (planned) cyber-attack by Hamas activists, Israeli forces bombed a house where “cyber-operations” were taking place.
As cyberattacks are increasingly being revealed, hackers find themselves trapped between criminal charges and blackmail – and even death – while companies risk losing their reputations or licences. Cyber operations therefore expose anyone who works for the Kremlin in this sphere to harm. Further, Russia’s involvement in cyber operations itself undermines international cooperation on issues of global importance.
By visiting Moscow on Saturday, the 11 of January Angela Merkel gave a sign that she refused to admit that Putin was intentionally part of the problems of almost everything they discussed – especially, problems related to Syria, Ukraine and Russian gas.
Till the last year geopolitical interests of Ukraine on the international stage equated the interests of international liberal community. And the European leaders seemed to understand it and even voiced it in all possible meetings and press-conferences. In the period immediately after the occupation of Crimea by Russia, the political leaders of Ukraine were able to communicate this message and create a coalition of the states that stood up to the aggressive foreign policy of the Kremlin. Now, unfortunately, as it could be anticipated, Ukraine no longer stands up for its interests as a sovereign state. We cannot expect other states to do that for Ukraine. At the same time, it should be underlined that Ukraine’s success in winning its sovereignty and territorial integrity back may be the last chance for the international community to push-back Russian imposition of “the rules of the game”.
Instead of it, we see that Macron’s rhetoric about normalisation of the relations with Russia and Merkel’s ignoration of Kremlin’s imperialistic ambitions inspire the lobby groups who trade the long-term interests of the European society for commercial gain. This “short-sighted benefit-mentality” of some representatives of the European societies is “used” by the Kremlin to deceit them. In such a way Russia creates coalition without the members of the coalition even knowing it. These leaders or lobby groups put their states on the one side of the history and the states that suffer from Russia’s imperialism on the other.
Thirteen minutes to twelve on the 31st of December 2019 Volodymyr Zelenskyy pronounced a speech. It was not an ordinary speech. It was a speech that tried to give birth to the “national idea of Ukraine”.
Let’s analyse some of theses of the New Year’s speech of the President Zelenskyy to Ukrainians to see whether he succeeded to give birth to the “national idea of Ukraine” or dismissed it instead (see the text of the full speech here https://www.unian.info/society/10816211-zelensky-s-new-year-address-everyone-should-answer-the-question-who-am-i.html):
The President identifies a Ukrainian to be the one that has full right not obey the law and not to learn Ukrainian language. He says that it is absolutely OK not to be willing to speak the state language. Ukrainians should accept it. There is no call to action and no solution to the antagonism regarding this issue in the society.
It needs to be reminded that just two days before this Speech the President dismissed the rule of law for the sake of the “unequal exchange”, and the “Citizen of Ukraine” had only “LIFE”.
Of course, we do respect them. But the fame puts responsibility on those who is famous as these people have followers. They are role models for them. The Kremlin uses the fame of the actors and singers to propagate its state policy. It is dangerous to ignore the power of the fame.
Indeed, the “crosses on the graves of soldiers do not compete in patriotism,” but for the sake of the patriotism they fell under those crosses. They were driven by the patriotism and they gave their life for it.
The value of respect noble. But outside the context of a “national idea”.
Correct but war as well as peace are two-way road. If Russia stops fighting, there will be no war, if Ukraine stops fighting – there will be no Ukraine (Edmont Huet).
In other words, the self-identification of Ukrainians does not matter for the President.
The President failed to envision this future.
To sum up, the Speech of the President is not about the national idea, it is about being human and meeting the needs of a human (if you read the text of the full speech you will see that the aspects that Volodymyr Zelenskyy mentions fit into the lower levels of the Maslow pyramid). How can Ukrainians be driven to meet the needs? And why should they do it in Ukraine and not in another country? With what they should identify themselves? With respect? Or unity?
Therefore, the concepts of “national idea” and “human values / needs” cannot be replaced; they must be complementary. A national idea as a spirit of the people should be a motivator for meeting the needs within their own country.
Terrorists and suspects of crimes against Euromaidan activists were exchanged for Ukrainian prisoners of war held by (pro)Russian fighters. Much of Ukraine’s civil society has opposed such unequal exchange.
Four years ago, Volodymyr Dvornikov, Viktor Tetiutsky and Serhiy Bashlykov organized and executed terrorist attack near the Sports Palace in Kharkiv. As a result of the attack, four people were killed. On 28th December 2019 the Kharkiv Court found them guilty, gave the life sentence and immediately released them. The judge also ordered the destruction of evidence. Further, former employees of Berkut (special police force in Ukraine – the riot police), who have been suspected of killing dozens of Euromaidan activists in 2014, got released. Both, the convicted in the terrorist attack and the suspected in the crimes against Euromaidan have appeared on the exchange list, agreed upon by Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Vladimir Putin in Paris.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy every time talking about the exchange of “prisoners” with (pro)Russian fighters states that “a person’s life is of the highest value”, and therefore “he should return our boys home at any cost.” These statements include two aspects: “the highest value” and “at any cost”. The first threatens the rule of law, the second – sovereignty.
The greatest dilemma has emerged since the Euromaidan – to release the suspects and the criminals to rescue Ukrainian hostages or to “surrender” own people in order to punish suspects in the most vicious crime of independent Ukraine.
“The highest value is life”. Always and Forever?
“Life as the highest value” is a noble and ethically sound principle. However, if we consider the President of Ukraine not simply a sincere kind man who wants to save the lifes of prisoners of Russia-backed separatists, but a statesman, then his position on “returning our boys” should be part of his integral systematic approach to the human life. This integral approach, if carefully converted in the entire belief system, can become a model for the behavior of all statesmen working in his team from the top down and for the country as a whole.
Zelenskyy says: “Everyone’s life is of the highest value.” If this is an integral approach, it should concern everyone, always and under all conditions. It must be manifested in all the acts and statements of Zelenskyy, as well as those who report to him and those whose role model he is. It should not be a selective value only in relation to the “exchange”. But will the President follow this line with respect to all Ukrainians in the future?
In order to understand whether this is an integral approach, one should look at Zelenskyy’s actions and his behavior in other circumstances. At the moment, there is no reason to believe that Zelenskyy’s statements and actions are part of the integral systematic approach to making human life the highest value in Ukraine (according to his own words), especially since the rule of law which is designed to protect the right to live of all people in the country, has been dismissed for the sake of the “exchange”.
It is dangerous to subordinate the rule of law to the right to live, because then there will be nothing to rely on to justify this right to live.
Moreover, the mere proclamation of life as the highest value does not automatically make it the highest value. The right to live is not absolute. Even under the European human rights law, only the right to protection against torture, degrading or inhuman treatment is absolute. This means that the right to live may be restricted, e.g. when a state of emergency or martial law is in force. It is when we talk about the legal field. And in the political field, at the ratio of “one person’s life versus the survival of the nation”, the second is of higher value. For the statesman. As long as there are national borders. That is why there are armies in almost all states of the world. And that is why the soldiers know that by going to war to defend their country and preserve the dignity of their nation, there is chance that they may not return.
“At any price” – the price of sovereignty?
Is this exchange on the Kremlin’s terms – proportional to the risks? And the risks are: repeated taking of hostages by (pro) Russian fighters; the mobilization by the (pro) Russian side of the released suspects and criminals, who can act more viciously and cruelly out of revenge; and the perception by Russia and the entire international community of this act as a signal of Ukraine’s willingness to surrender its sovereignty.
It is already seen that the President of Russia, having influence on the President of Ukraine (whether it is blackmail or Zelenskyy’s goodwill) indirectly influences the Ukrainian court.
In addition, along with the riot police Ukraine handed over the right to rewrite the history of Ukraine to Russia. And the Kremlin rewrites the history of other countries with pleasure (see the recent scandal of Poland with Russia over the Kremlin’s interpretation of Poland’s involvement in the outbreak of World War II). In “1984” George Orwell writes: “He who governs the past, he controls the future.” Unfortunately, the history proves he was right.
To sum up, absence of punishment, especially when there is a high demand for it in society, mutates the values of those expecting it and stimulates the future crime. The whole war of Russia against Ukraine is the battle of values. The biggest danger here is that the Ukrainian nation that wants European values to be implemented in Ukraine moves far away from these values as it is being forced to learn that evil is good and good is evil.
Whether being busy with internal power battle or having a purposeful long-term ease-on-Russia-strategy, Ukraine weakens its grip on the conscience of the EU power elites over the basic principles of justice. It results in situations, where rule-based societies help the Kremlin pursue the path of disrespect for international law.
German minister for economic affairs Peter Altmaier and Russian minister for economic development Maksim Oreshkin signed a declaration on bilateral cooperation “Partnership for efficiency” which foresees exchanges of workers, study tours, mutual support for energy efficiency and digitalization, as well as identification of SMEs that want to cooperate for achievement of their goals.
This political declaration should help Russian economics adapt to future challenges thanks to German technologies. During this visit of the German delegation to Russia, Siemens seized an opportunity to get a EUR 1.1 billion order from Russia to manufacture 13 trains.
It is not new that some European politicians lobby for closer cooperation with Russia, but the news here is that this are the Christian Democrats – in-power-politicians of the leading EU country. After years of resistance, they have finally let business dictate international politics or even geopolitics with possible long-term consequences for peace and prosperity in Europe.
German Christian Democrats are the role model for the whole European Peoples Party group, one of the biggest in the European Parliament. Members of this group are political decisionmakers in many European states. Therefore, the behavior of the German Christian Democrats will have an effect on the Russia policy of European institutions and other countries of the EU. When German in-power politicians bypass EU sanctions, this sends the message that working with Russia despite its aggression against neighboring countries is no more a mauvais ton.
Although Peter Altmaier confirmed that the sanctions will remain, the goal of the sanctions is completely undermined by his actions. There is a common understanding that the sanctions are there to weaken the capacity of the state to be disobedient, and contributing to the modernization of specific areas helps the state to become self-sufficient. Consequently, sanctions have a neutral effect.
These are double standards in relation to the EU. Altmaier and co keep on holding the trend which started in 2014-2015 when public figures of Europe and the USA began crossing moral lines and by this “authorizing” the behavior of their societies which was previously seen as a taboo.
The internal rhetoric of Russian authorities concerning its confrontation with the “collective West,” the formalism of its internal law which has higher priority over international rules, and the national strategy to become “completely sovereign” are entirely ignored by Westerners.
Since the very beginning of Russian aggression, the West allowed Russia to launder money through the EU borders, permitted children of Russian politicians to do internships at the European institutions, failed to disconnect it from SWIFT. All of this prevented sanctions from having an immediate effect on restoring international law and created grounds for damage to the European economy in the long run. Now, the populists and Russia-financed political forces and business elites in Europe use the last argument in order to rebuild relations with Russia despite the fact that the Kremlin has tried to destroy the existing world order which was established on the blood of millions.
Such behavior shall result in the long-term capitulation of Europe, which Germany is pulling with itself.
President Zelenskyy should continue the course of integration into the European Union laid down by the Constitution. Yet both Ukraine and the EU need to get prepared for the accession. Ukraine is continuing the reforms – the economic and political, laid down by the previous team. However, the strategy at the moment is not so much the accession to the EU as the implementation of European norms, standards and human rights, the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
In order to be ready to transfer many of the powers of Ukraine in certain spheres to the EU in the accession process, the presidential team needs to audit them and to align them with the European standards in order to clearly divide competences between the EU institutions and the Ukrainian authorities. Ukraine is a sovereign independent state, and its national interests – the interests of the people – are a factor which will determine whether it will make the final step. This is a work for 5-7 years for our society – for practical transformation and mental preparations.
The EU is in a state of crisis in view of Brexit, the distribution of refugees, the flow of migrants, the terrorist threat and the coming to power of populists. Ukraine’s accession to the EU is not relevant to the EU itself; on the other hand, the EU is now preparing for the accession of the Balkans. Ukraine is an important trading partner and an EU’s ally. EU countries respect international law and sanction regime against Russia, so instead of Russia they trade with Ukraine, and this should continue. The more Ukraine implements European norms and standards, the more trade will grow – the more living standards in Ukraine will rise.
As for the accession, referendums are foreseen in many EU countries: people there will also say yes or no to Ukraine’s accession. Ukraine needs to carry out preparatory work to improve the image of Ukraine in Europe in terms of reforms, tourism, education exchange programs- among those who will vote in these referendums.
Why Ukraine are not ready to join now?
Russia, the United States, France, and China held secret talks on cybersecurity in Paris lasr week to produce something akin to a “Treaty of Westphalia” for cyberspace. In this way, they hope to avoid clashes that may harm their vital interests and introduce deconfliction mechanisms as exists in the air sector. Concurrently, Russia has called for the establishment of cybersecurity working groups with other states as it wants to take the lead in setting the rules of the game.
Today, cyberspace is insufficiently regulated by international law. Existing international legal documents, like the 2001 Budapest Convention on Cybercrime and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s 2009 Information Security Agreement, have been deemed inefficient due to their limited scope and membership.
The United Nations’ Group of Governmental Experts, established in 2004 with the aim of strengthening the security of global information and telecommunications systems, failed to deliver results in 2016. The expectations of states regarding the right to self-defense and the applicability of international humanitarian law to cyber conflicts were seen by many as controversial.
Emmanuel Macron — interested in establishing France as a leader in artificial intelligence and innovation — launched the 2018 Paris Call for Trust in Security in Cyberspace but Russia, China, and the US did not join. It appears that this week’s secret talks were held with the intention of filling the void in the regulation of the behavior of these states in cyberspace.
While it is unclear who called the meeting, foreign leaders should be cautious of Russian-led initiatives, as Russia has shown itself to be an unreliable party in its international commitments.
It is vital to bear in mind that the Kremlin feels Russia has been excluded from informal and, in some instances, formal relationships fostered among Western states, and, consequently, has been promoting the establishment of a new “bilateral world order.” It is leveraging its potential in cyberspace to accomplish this. Russia proposes to solve problems of its own creation (e.g., fake news and cyber attacks) by calling for the formation of cybersecurity working groups with other states.
Last year, Spain accused Russia of state-sponsored hacking aimed at promoting Catalonian independence. A few weeks ago, Moscow proposed to set up a joint cybersecurity group with Spain.
Just two weeks ago, the UK named Russia the primary threat to its well-being since the Cold War. Soon after, the Russian ambassador to the UK stated that Moscow is ready to engage in dialogue on cybersecurity with the United Kingdom.
In addition to countries it has attacked in the past, Russia plans to establish “regular bilateral contacts” in the cybersphere with Portugal, Turkey, and the states of the Association of South-East Asian Nations.
According to Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation on Digital Economy Dmitry Peskov, Russia wants to propose global standards for cybersecurity in the fields of artificial intelligence, big data, and others. These bilateral groups are not the only tactics they have utilized in their efforts to accomplish this. Mr. Peskov’s colleague, Russian Presidential Envoy for International Cooperation in Information Security Andrey Krutskikh, informed the press that Russia has submitted a draft resolution on cybersecurity to the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly as it “wants to elaborate rules of conduct of states in cyberspace.”
Despite the fact that Russia is not abiding by international rules, it wants to establish the rules for others. Russia’s economy has taken a hit as a result of current sanctions. Consequently, it plans to grow the economy through digital “cooperation” – a field that is poorly regulated, and, thus, easily manipulated. Some states have fallen for its proposals, although to others Moscow’s motives are clear — it is interested in stealing state secrets for its own personal gain.
By looking to solve problems of its own creation, Moscow wants to make its partners dependent on Russia. Mr. Peskov wants Russia to cooperate with global companies like SAP, Microsoft, and Lego so that Russian technological solutions might gain greater international exposure. According to Mr. Peskov, Russia’s ambition is to become a “global exporter of solutions in the field of security…and their role should be so big that it be not possible to use the global technological standards without Russia.”
To demonstrate that they are ready to cooperate, Russian Kaspersky Lab moved from Moscow to Switzerland and signed the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace along with Group-IB.
Yet, if foreign countries and private companies trust them and agree to cooperate with Moscow, it will only give the latter an incentive to interfere in their affairs.
This will allow Moscow to set standards and gain access to national security secrets of all countries involved.Whether foreign politicians genuinely believe Moscow or have a vested interest in believing it, they should know that by partnering with Russia, they allow the Kremlin to step into their circles of trust, risking intentional or unintentional harm.
By working with Moscow in the cybersphere they put their citizens at risk — Russia has an active black market in illegal databases. Data shared with Russia in confidence can be leaked or sold to third parties.
This can even occur unintentionally, as it did in the Skripal case when two GRU agents were exposed in the poisoning of a former Russian military intelligence officer. The Kremlin is incapable of controlling its own data. How can it be trusted to secure the data of partner states?
The UK, EU, Baltics, Denmark, NATO, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons warn that Russia threatens international order with its cyber attacks, having conducted heavy disinformation and hacking campaigns into other states and organizations. Consequently, these states and organizing bodies annually allocate billions in their budgets to defend themselves from such hybrid interference in their affairs.It is understood by them and should be understood by others, that working groups, secret talks, or any other participation of Russia in cybersecurity platforms should be approached with caution.
Co-authored by Katria Tomko
The Parliament of Ukraine has recently voted for a Resolution that proposes to shut down two national TV channels – NewsOne and 112 Ukraine. Both are accused by the MPs of spreading Russian chauvinist propaganda and the ideology of terrorism. Now, the National Security and Defense Council should take measures according to the Law on Sanctions. These measures to be signed by the President of Ukraine.
Bypassing legal procedures
The Resolution was voted without the agreement of the Committee of Freedom of Speech and through “button pushing” (Ukrainian parliamentarians voting for their absent fellow MPs, which is not allowed by the Parliament’s Regulation). The basis of the Resolution was a petition on the website of the Parliament signed by Ukrainian citizens who were convinced that the channels were financed and controlled by the Kremlin.
The reason for the petition was that under the conditions of military action in Donbas, Russian propaganda is a weapon of war, and in the upcoming elections, it would be used against the sovereignty of Ukraine.
Yet the applied procedure bypassed the existing law on media freedom, which should not be happening in a state with the rule of law. There is no state of emergency in Ukraine – thus, the regular law should be applied. It foresees that the National Television and Radio Broadcast Council, Security Service of Ukraine, and court are competent to handle cases of crime and abuse by the media. This would ensure the requirement of Art. 10 of the ECHR on proportionality and legitimacy – and allow the channels to defend themselves in the court.
Why did the Ukrainian Parliament intervene then?
Is it because the other institutions are not efficient? Or is it because there are not enough legal grounds for the competent organs to cancel the broadcasting license?
Given that the petition is a document that reflects the moral stance of a part of the population and the Resolution is a document with legal consequences, we need to establish what exactly the channels abused, moral norms or norms of law.
First of all, many suspect they are financed by the Kremlin. While it’s clear that Ukraine should resist Russia’s information attacks against Ukrainians, the country still has no law forbidding Russian funding of Ukrainian media sources.
Such a law exists in the US, not in Ukraine.At the beginning of 2018, Russia Today and Sputnik were listed among foreign agents in the USA according to FARA 1938 , which requires that agents representing foreigners reveal financing sources and details of their activities, so everyone can have an idea in whose interests they act. And in October 2018 one of the distributors stopped broadcasting Russia Today on the grounds of the John McCain defense clause, just because it is financed by Russia.
Yet Ukraine is not governed by the US law, it needs to have its own norms to forbid the media and other Ukrainian structures being financed by Russia.
Such a law was being prepared in 2016 but was never adopted. Therefore, if an outlet is indeed financed by the Kremlin (which still needs to be proven), this is no official reason for Ukraine to revoke its broadcasting license.
Many Russian channels, especially those just retranslating their programs in Ukraine were banned back in 2014. In all of the cases it happened on the decision of the National Television and Radio Broadcast Council or court. Those channels that had representation in Ukraine were banned later by the decision of the National Security and Defense Council. Yet these are the media, legally established in Russia. There is not much influence to make them adapt their activity to Ukrainian law. This is different in the case of 112 Ukraine and NewsOne.
A further argument to cancel the license is that both channels are most probably owned by Viktor Medvedchuk, dubbed as “Putin’s man in Ukraine,” despite the official papers saying otherwise. In 2016, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General was required by the court to open a criminal investigation against him concerning proof of his anti-state activities. Nevertheless, Medvedchuk is working in Ukraine, and most probably will participate in presidential elections, whether by himself or by supporting a united candidate from the so-called “opposition.” Therefore, closing the channels based on ownership by Viktor Medvedchuk has no legal grounds.
Notably, the Law on Sanctions used by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to pass the Resolution is applicable to the official owners and managers of the channels – in one case is a foreigner and in the other – a non-resident. The manager of the latter was changed the day after the Resolution was passed: both the owner and the manager of NewsOne are Ukrainian residents now. Yet it is still unclear whether the Law applies to media outlets established in Ukraine, as there is a possibility to influence them by applying other existing legal norms. The misuse of the Law on Sanctions in relation to basic human rights has to be prevented. Moreover, the media enjoys special international legal protection because of the importance of freedom of speech.
Other arguments to stop broadcasting of 112 and News One include TV-presenters who repeatedly used clichés of Russian propaganda like praise for Russia’s military power in Syria and suggesting for Ukrainians to watch this power more often in order to estimate Russia’s real force in comparison to Ukraine. The presenters sometimes accuse Ukrainian authorities of being responsible for Russian aggression against Ukraine. At least one of the channels spreads fake news.
Do these abuses mean that the channels should be shut down? Maybe. But it is the court that should decide, not the Parliament, because media should be free from political influence. There have been numerous investigations into 112 and News One by the National Television and Radio Broadcast Council and National Security Service of Ukraine, but they were not enough to revoke their licenses. So, the legislator who has no competence in these matters stepped in.
As for the moral side, we mustn’t forget that the decision of the National Security and Defense Council that acts on the Parliament’s authority would need to be signed by the President, who himself owns a TV channel and is a candidate in the 2019 presidential election. This makes him an “interested” party in the case.
Besides, in the media environment in Ukraine where almost all the channels belong to a few people with political interests in these channels, how ethical is it to demand to close the mass-media of other people? This may be used by the latter as an argument that the government wishes to “shut down its opponents.”
Therefore, the channels shouldn’t be closed at the Parliament’s will.
Hybrid war brings hybrid freedom of speech
Why does Ukrainian society push for closing the channels? It was officially the petition that gave the impetus for the Parliament to adopt the Resolution.
The situation in which Ukrainian authorities refuse to call the military intervention of Russia “a war” in internal legal acts dissonates with many Ukrainians, who see themselves as left on their own with dealing with the status of this war. Thus, the activists and media impose their understanding of the status of this war on others without any legal support.
This has consequences for the communication between people in society.
In the past four years, the situation of war in Ukraine has led to the rise of the phenomenon of “betrayal” (“treason”). It allows labeling anything opposing the Ukrainian government’s stance as “treason” leading to Russia’s victory. Those speaking about signs of corruption in the government are the “enemy” aiming to sow distrust towards Ukraine’s leaders at a time of war and those blindly praising the government are the true Ukrainians fighting for national identity. One is forced to take sides every time he takes a stance on whatever issue in society. The area “in between” slowly disappears.
Yet the role of civil society and media is to criticize and to control the government, not the other way around..
In developed democracies, people understand that the “government in its natural state is arrogant and lazy… and if it is not accountable to the people, it just keeps doing the lazy and arrogant thing…” These are the words of Nikki Haley, the Representative of the USA in the UN.
It is not up to civil society activists or other people to make conclusions on treason on the basis of their own subjective values. These are the powers of the court.
What the Parliament should do is to draw criteria based on which a person is to be qualified as a “hand of Kremlin” so that everyone is on the same page. Everyone should clearly understand what is allowed, what is not allowed, and what are the consequences of the breach of this law. The law-enforcement authorities should ensure the efficiency of this law. Up till then any one-by-one “qualification” of a person by a petition or the Parliament as an “enemy” is not acceptable. Hate speech towards people with other political views should be legally prosecuted.
The international silence
The chair of the Committee of Foreign Affairs of the Ukrainian Parliament Hanna Hopko told Daily RBC that there will be no reaction of Ukraine’s Western partners to the Resolution and possible closure of the channels. According to her, she explained everything to the embassies when the authorities banned Russian social media services “Vkontakte” and “Odnoklassniki” to which the Law on Sanctions was applied.
Such an approach is dangerous because it sedates the vigilance of Ukraine’s international partners and by this provokes the permissiveness of the Ukrainian authorities.
If these channels deserve to be closed, it should be established by the court. But if they are banned by an act of parliament without application of legal procedures and international control, this will set a dangerous precedent allowing for easy political interference in the work of media.
Besides, Russian social media and Ukrainian channels have different statuses. Ukrainian media, even if their official owners are foreigners or non-residents, cannot be compared to foreign structures that are administered from other states and therefore interfere in the internal affairs of Ukraine – they can be influenced by national instruments.
Their closure can happen quickly but the fight for freedom will take years.
Historian Timothy Snyder, a bestselling author well known in Ukraine, warns that “most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given… the first heedless acts of conformity cannot be reversed. The institutions like a court, a media, a law fall one after the other unless each is defended from the beginning.”
How to combat propaganda
Russia’s propaganda machine should be fought by existing procedures and through international cooperation. Together, countries should develop new procedures if necessary.
For now, propaganda of war and hatred rhetoric are forbidden by international law. It is because both are capable of provoking bloodshed. Some countries used this law to shut down media outlets. Thus, by the decision of the court, Denmark closed Roj TV A/S back in 2010. According to the government, the channel promoted the terrorist activities of PCC (Kurdistan Workers Party). In May 2018, the European Court for Human Rights confirmed that Denmark did the right thing through the right authority.
As for fake news, they are both allowed and not allowed. An agreement on “fake news” – International Convention concerning the Use of Broadcasting in the Cause of Peace of the League of Nations 1936 forbids spreading of misleading messages. It requires the States to prohibit broadcasting programs that provoke actions which are incompatible with internal order and security. The agreement is still valid, though no one is executing its norms.
Moreover, in the Сommon Declaration of the UNO, OSCE, OAS, and Africa from 2017, it is noted that “fake news should not be banned but debunked.”
This collision between international norms shows that the question is not well studied and regulated on the level of international law. Also, fake news in a country that suffers from military intervention could lead to military losses.
Nevertheless, the government of Ukraine should apply the existing law or pass a new law applicable to all. Criteria should be drawn for reasons of transparency and for the sake of saving democracy. To rephrase the above-mentioned historian Timothy Snyder, the laws and rules are there not to serve the projects of the elites, they are there to hinder them.
Ukraine cannot take continued EU attention for granted as Russia reasserts itself in Brussels
A new political season is now underway in Brussels but Ukraine will have its work cut out remaining high on the EU agenda as we head towards the end of the year. Thoughts in the European capital are already turning towards upcoming elections to the European Parliament in May 2019, meaning a lull in lobbying as the focus shifts to campaigning. Even without this electoral distraction, Ukraine would find itself competing with a host other major issues while also struggling to avoid being obscured by Russia’s perpetually prominent presence in EU circles. The crisis unleashed in Ukraine by Vladimir Putin in 2014 is still very much unresolved, but Ukrainians cannot take continued European attention for granted. Instead, Kyiv needs to develop new strategies to maintain the country’s position as one of the continent’s top strategic priorities while persuading Brussels decision makers to resist the urge to mend fences with an unrepentant Kremlin.
From Brexit to Syria
The European Union currently has a lot on its plate. In addition to the war in Ukraine, Brussels today faces a host of pressing issues that represent direct threats to the future of the EU. These include the ongoing migrant crisis and parallel rise of far right political sentiment, the war in Syria, growing nationalist populism, and last but not least, Brexit. It is noteworthy that Russia is involved to some degree in virtually all of these problems. Russia’s military intervention in Syria has contributed significantly to the flow of refugees arriving in Europe. The Kremlin’s sophisticated multimedia propaganda efforts boosted the push for Brexit and fanned the flames of Catalan separatism. Moscow has also provided significant support to a range of anti-EU nationalist and populist parties across the European Union, in many cases helping them to enter parliament and strengthen their positions in domestic politics. This is not mere Machiavellian scheming on the Kremlin’s part. Russian pretentions as a bastion against globalization (or American domination, as viewed from the Kremlin) have made Moscow equally appealing to European parties on both the far left and the far right of the political spectrum in recent years. This has helped to underline longstanding notions of Russia’s importance in the European political dialogue that fell out of fashion in the 1990s.
Juncker: End Russia-Bashing
There is still significant resistance to Russia within the EU, as witnessed by the widespread expulsions of Russian diplomats in spring 2018 following the Kremlin nerve agent attack in the UK. Nevertheless, there are growing indications that a consensus is taking shape on the need to reengage with Russia. This was most obviously apparent in the recent call by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for an end to “Russia-bashing”. French President Emanuel Macron has also spoken recently of the need to work with Russia. Indeed, the French head of state was one of a number of EU leaders to ignore an informal boycott and visit Moscow during the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The most bizarre indication of this apparent European thaw towards Russia was the appearance of Vladimir Putin as guest of honor at the midsummer wedding of the Austrian Foreign Minister.
Kremlin Soft Power
Against this backdrop of gradually improving EU-Russian relations, Kremlin-tied organizations remain active in Brussels staging events designed to legitimize Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the Donbas while also popularizing Ukrainian politicians and opinion leaders who espouse pro-Kremlin positions. These activities take advantage of Moscow’s strong network of influencers throughout Europe and particularly in Brussels itself, where Russia can call upon the support of numerous NGOs, business partners, political allies, sympathetic journalists and members of the post-Soviet diaspora, not to mention its own security and intelligence assets. The collective message they seek to project is clear and coherent: the West is exploiting Ukraine in order to encircle Russia. In reality, Ukraine has no agency of its own. It will never become part of the European family and should remain within the Russian sphere of influence.
This message resonates with many EU pragmatists who would much rather go back to business as usual with Russia. After all, facilitating a better business climate is the very essence of the European Union project. As things currently stand, the EU has actually become a barrier to doing business with Russia. Lobby groups have fought hard against further sanctions designed to punish Russia for its attack on Ukraine. This resistance is one of the reasons for the successful promotion of the Nord Stream II pipeline project.
Ukraine’s own stuttering progress since 2014 makes it even harder to convince EU member states to accept the losses associated with a united front against Russian aggression. EU leaders (and European electorates) observe corruption scandal after scandal in post-revolutionary Kyiv and marvel at the obscene wealth of Ukrainian politicians. Meanwhile, many of the promised reforms fail to materialize and Ukraine’s civil society comes under increasing attack from within, making it difficult to argue that all the sacrifices are actually worth it.
Nevertheless, Ukraine still has plenty of friends in Brussels. The European Parliament regularly hosts Ukraine-related conferences on such topics as the fight against corruption, implementation of the Minsk agreements, the plight of Ukrainian political prisoners held by the Kremlin, human rights in Crimea, and the status of Ukraine’s large IDP community. Ukraine-related cultural and economic events are also an increasingly common feature on the Brussels calendar.
Wanted: Ukrainian Success Stories
Looking ahead much will depend on quality of the information about Ukraine available in Brussels. It is crucial to make sure Ukraine has a louder voice in the EU capital, whether the message is coming from the Ukrainian state, the media or civil society. Some of the communications priorities are self-evident. There is a strategic need for greater coverage of the many success stories that post-Maidan Ukraine can offer. We hear much of the problems Ukraine faces, but breakthroughs and successes rarely receive the international attention they deserve.
Greater cooperation within the Ukrainian community would also help. Numerous different Ukrainian organizations currently send out digests of Ukrainian news to MEPs and other Brussels decision makers. This duplication dilutes the message and means busy MEPs inevitably risk missing key information as their assistants seek to condense six or seven weekly bulletins on Ukraine into a brief report.
Crucial Year Ahead
The coming year will be crucial for Ukraine domestically, with presidential and parliamentary elections set to take place in spring and autumn. With Brussels also preoccupied by its own forthcoming parliamentary election, there is a danger that EU-Ukraine ties could slide down the political agenda. This makes the role of Ukrainian civil society even more important. Most of all, Ukraine must push the EU to maintain its resolve towards the Kremlin. Russia has a major impact on EU affairs, but Brussels must not allow this strategic significance to overshadow the need to defend international law and protect Ukraine’s European choice.
Published by Business Ukraine Magazine - http://bunews.com.ua/opinion/item/battle-for-brussels-russia-is-still-overshadowing-ukraine-in-the-heart-of-the-european-union
Робота зі спецслужбами
Подвійне життя – автобіографічна оповідь палестинця, який у дворічному віці переїхав у Бельгію і залишився тут жити. Вона починається з того, що до нього додому з ордером на обшук і підозрою у потуранні бельгійським терористам вривається поліція.
Влітку 2014 Монтассер два тижні був свідком гарячої війни в Сирії. В Алеппо він жив у фламандських і голландських джихадистів Нустра-Фронт – Фронт завоювання Леванту, угрупування, пов’язаного із АльКаїдою.
Монтассер не воював. Він поїхав туди, щоб для своєї докторської дисертації поспілкуватися із радикалізованими ісламістами Європи, щоб зрозуміти причини їхньої радикалізації та їхню роль у найнищівнішій війні 21го століття. Він хотів стати найкращим спеціалістом із джихаду в Бельгії та працювати на службу безпеки, аби попередити можливі терористичні напади.
У своїй попередній книзі «Джихадкараван» Монтассер розповідає, що хотів і готувався стати терористом. Він описує свій шлях і мотиви сходження з цієї дороги. Тож ідентифікуючи себе із можливими терористами, він знав, що може допомогти їм де-радикалізуватися. Його дисертація була кроком до виконання цієї життєвої місії. Тому ризик, якому він піддав своє життя в Алеппо був виправданий метою допомогти таким, як він сам.
Його часто підозрювали у шпигунстві і пропонували пристати на різні сторони війни – у Сирії, в Йорданії, в Бельгії.
Він же ж хотів працювати на бельгійські спецслужби, навіть подав документи на роботу у них у 2012 році. Щоправда, вони тоді на його заявку не відповіли. А ось коли він повернувся з Сирії, то спецслужби знайшли його самі і запропонували співпрацю. Монтассер був незамінимим джерелом інформації про те, хто коли і де загинув та хто до кого приєднався. Адже ж в свої лави європейців рекрутували Нусра-Фронт, війська сирійського уряду, Ісламська Держава і інші угрупування.
Для бельгійської розвідки ця інформація була надзвичайно важлива, бо допомагала зрозуміти, хто - наступний з Голландії та Бельгії виїде до Сирії на війну, хто із тих, що повернувся – достатньо радикалізований, щоб стати «смертельною машиною» в містах Європи.
Монтассер надавав про них інформацію та мав на меті створити інформаційно-освітній центр для таких людей. Бо ж не всіх по поверненню садять у тюрми, особливо, коли проти них немає свідчень у здійсненні злочинів війни. Не можна було залишати їх самих на себе, а «працювати» з ними для дерадикалізації не було кому.
Так почалося подвійне життя Монтассера Алдеемех – одне своє, а одне – таємне – для забезпечення безпеки Бельгії через комунікацію із симпатизантами радикального ісламу.
У січні 2015 центр «Дорога до» вперше відкрив свої двері таким людям. До того, Монтассер спілкувався з ними через комп’ютер та телефон, а відтепер з ними можна було зустрітися віч-на-віч. Юридичні послуги цього центру приваблювали також відчайдушних родичів джихадистів. З адвокатом, який надавав юридичну підтримку гостям центру Монтассер познайомився підчас процесу проти організації «Шаріат для Бельгії». В цьому процесі Монтассер м’яко висловлювався про організацію і про її засновника Белкацема, які насправді велику роль зіграли у радикалізації молодих бельгійців. Тоді виглядало так, ніби Монтассер підтримує цю організацію, але незрозуміло було чому. А причина полягала в тому, що йому треба було завоювати довіру Белкацема та його родичів для того, щоби зблизитися з ними і отримати цінну інформацію. Йому часто доводилось ставати на різні сторони, щоб завоювати їхню довіру.
«Клієнтами» центру були мусульмани, які потрапили в тенета джихадистської ідеології, а також ті мусульмани, яких несправедливо обвинувачували в радикалізмі. Вони приходили туди самі, а іноді Монтассер повинен був виходити на них на завдання служби безпеки. Спілкуючись із ними, Монтассер викликав у них довіру. Він вислуховував їх, не говорив, що їхні думки та ідеї неправильні, адже це не мало сенсу. Він ставив багато питань про їхній емоційний та психологічний стан та соціальне середовище, давав читати книжки авторів, які були для них авторитетні і які знецінювали ідеї радикалізму, підтримував практично своїми контактами і порадами, щоб допомогти їм знову інтегруватися в бельгійське суспільство.
Третьою важливою групою, якій допомагав центр, були батьки тих, хто відправився в Сирію чи збирається їхати туди. Вони потрапляли в пастку ситуації. Якщо діти були повнолітні, то не було нічого, що могло б їх стримати від поїздки в те пекло. А вже як поїхали, то батьки часто не знали, чи їхні діти ще живі і які у них плани. Їхні друзі ставали колишніми, а сусіди дивилися на них скоса. В цьому центрі батьки знаходили підтримку, тим більше, що це робилося у партнерстві із організацією «Стурбовані батьки», яка була створена у Моленбіку, районі Брюсселю, батьками джихадистів для таких самих батьків. Ця організація повідомляла Монтассерові, коли хтось збирався від’їжджати в Сирію, коли когось там поранили чи вбили, коли хтось розкаявся і хотів повернутись. Вони направляли до нього братів і сестер таких джихадистів, коли помічали, що вони стали на шлях радикалізації.
Цей центр працював також для вчителів, поліції, державних службовців і політиків, а також всіх тих, хто стикався з ісламом і хотів отримати інформацію про джихадистську ідеологію. Дебати, семінари, розмови один-на-один – основна форма роботи цього центру.
При цьому ніхто не знав, що Монтассер працював на службу безпеки Бельгії. Навіть назву центру придумав один із її агентів, з яким контактував Монтассер. Проте фінансував центр сам Монтассер. Лише через кілька місяців співпраці, служба безпеки почала повертати йому певні його витрати.
У 2015 суд Антверпена почав справу проти організації Шаріат для Бельгії за обвинуваченням в тероризмі. Через лекції та тренінги вона рекрутувала молодь до збройного джихаду. 45 її членів приєдналися до різних терористичних угрупувань в Сирії та Іраку. Як наслідок, її члени були засуджені до різних строків, а її лідер Фоуад Белкацем до 12 років в’язниці та 30 000 євро штрафу.
Монтассер писав журналістські статті про Белкацема. І щоб зрозуміти, як хлопчина, який народився в Бельгії, ходив в хорошу школу, був улюбленцем у дівчат і мав багато друзів, міг стати такою контроверсійною особистістю, він навіть пішов на зустріч із його батьками у їхньому домі. І ця зустріч стала для нього ключовою для розуміння поведінки і настроїв Белкацема. Расистське самосприйняття приїхавших колись до Бельгії мігрантів із Марокко передалися їхньому синові. Проте основна подія, яка вплинула на його життєву позицію сталася у Франції, коли він із сім’єю потрапили в аварію. Тоді серце Белкацема зупинилося, його життя висіло на волосині. Його врятували, і коли він отямився, він вирішив віддячити Богові служінням» йому. А вже на спосіб служіння вплинув радикальний іслам. Белкацем кілька разів їздив у Саудівську Аравію і взяв собі ім’я Абу Імран.
Спілкування з такими людьми було одним з перших завдань спецслужб, на які із власної волі почав працювати Монтассер.
PhD, author of thesis “Sovereignty to secure interests of states. Aspects of International and European Law”, Founder of Promote Ukraine, Brussels