Foreign Policy

Ukraine bans several pro-Russian TV-channels. A start of political campaign.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has put into effect the National Security and Defense Council’s (NSDC) decision on the application of personal special economic and other restrictive measures. The corresponding decree No. 29/2021 has been published on the website of the President’s Office. 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and Zik TV channels are actually owned by Viktor Medvechuk, and his partner MP Taras Kozak. Medvedchuk is the strongest pro-Russian political figure in Ukrainian politics, who has been known for his radical views. Vladimir Putin is a godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter, and he was trying several times to organize an exchange of prisoners through Viktor Medvedchuk or re-negotiate gas prices, bypassing official Ukrainian authorities. Those and similar actions are permanently used to give an extra political leverage to Medvedchuk’s oppositional political party ‘Opposition platform – For Life’, that unites many associates of escaped former President Yanukovych.

Consequently, the traces of Russian narratives could have been easily identified on all these three channels. For instance, they have broadcasted Medvedchuk’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. NewsOne channel has even arranged a TV-bridge “Need to Talk” with a Russian propaganda channel, ‘Rossiya 1’. However, at the same time we have to acknowledge that there are two obstacles. Firstly, sanctions include the revocation or suspension of a license, but legally the state can not impose sanctions against its own citizens, meanwhile both Medvedchuk and Kozak hold Ukrainian passport, therefore there is a possibility to appeal the decision in the court. Secondly, all these channels covered Presidential politics and actions very critically. Still, a number of political decisions were enacted in the parliament through collaboration of Presidential party ‘Servant of the people’ and ‘Opposition platform.’ Therefore, the question arises: why such a decision was taken right now?

There are few political processes that contributed to this action. The most important one is the victory of Joe Biden and his direct message to Vladimir Putin: “I made it very clear to President Putin in a manner very different from my predecessor that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russian aggressive actions, interfering with our elections, cyberattacks, poisoning its citizens, are over.”[1]Also, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Ukraine to maintain progress on fighting corruption and implementing rule of law and economic reforms in his recent phone call with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. Previously, the possibility of Zelensky coalition with ‘Opposition platform – For Life’ was widely discussed by the Ukrainian expert community. This was quite possible indeed, because of President Zelensky’s intention to negotiate peace with Russian Federation, and the ‘manner’ of Trumps administration, regarding Russian assertiveness was not so proactive.  

Another, crucial moment is that Zelensky has totally lost his pro-Russian supports, who have certainly contributed to his tremendous result of 73% on the last presidential election. They voted for his intention to negotiate with Russian Federation, and willing to rebuild relations between the two states. This did not happen within two years of his presidency, what is more, Zelensky has inherently continued the attitude of his predecessor Poroshenko, towards Russia, whom he criticized massively during the campaign.

Due to the fact that, the maximum potential of pro-Russian electoral group in Ukraine is 20%, that are now mainly oriented on Medvedchuk, Zelensky’s political advisors proposed him to focus on centrist and right patriotic electorate. Most probably, the intention is two reach the second round paired with Yuri Boiko, a candidate from ‘Opposition platform – For Life’. If this would be managed, then consolidation of patriotic European-oriented, centrist electorate would be obtainable. This especially becomes a feasible political consideration, due to the continuous declarations of the Office of President, their desires to provide necessary reforms, for integration to the EU and NATO alliance. In the recent interview for HBO, President Zelensky even asked President Biden, why Ukraine is not still a member of NATO. Yet not many actual actions are taken by the current Ukrainian authorities to boost the process. Contrary to that, the initial politics of Zelensky, in a light of his attempt to have deals with President Trump, resulted in the failure of a special operation against 28 members of Wagner Private Military Company. Also, there was a sustained effort by MP Andriy Derkach and his colleagues to create an international scandal, regarding Poroshenko and Biden, and the 1 billion USD which was supposedly for holding on to corruption linked with Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian gas producer which Hunter Biden was on the board of at the time.

 So, we have observed an unexpected shift of Zelensky’s objectives, dictated by external change of political landscape, and inner frustration of his policies. Now, there is a question whether this move will be transformed into a trend, and Ukraine will make necessary reforms, and become closer to its Western allies, or the decision would be appealed in the courts, and opposition will receive an extra political leverage. Therefore, this is a continuation of informal coalition with pro-Russian forces. On the other hand, there is a question of which informational broadcasters will occupy a vacated place. In the country, where the whole political power is consolidated in the hands of one political party, the possibility of subordination of the information field is quite possible. The nearest days will show which scenario is going to happen, but in any case, this action was intended by a political calculation to secure political power, in the long-run, and should be treated as a preparation for the campaign.

Sources: The White House official website, 4.02.2021.

By Ihor Bobyr

I am a student of BA in International Relations and European Studies at Lazarski University. My main research interests are democratization on post-Soviet space, European Integration, ethical and religious conflicts, political conflicts, and historical traumas.

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