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Ukraine imposes sanctions on Russian web companies

MOSCOW: A woman speaks on her mobile phone as she walks outside the headquarters of Yandex company, Russia’s internet search engine, in Moscow yesterday.—AFP

KIEV: Ukraine imposed sanctions on Russia’s largest internet group Yandex and other popular online firms yesterday, saying it wanted to guard against cyberattacks, and the Kremlin threatened retaliation. The restrictions froze any assets held by the Russian businesses inside Ukraine and banned hosts there from linking to them, though the websites were all still accessible in Kiev yesterday afternoon.

The ban was imposed partly to protect against companies “whose activities threaten the information and cyber security of Ukraine”, the Kiev government’s Security and Defense Council said in a statement. They added to a list of more than 400 Russian firms blacklisted by Kiev since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ensuing pro-Russian separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine. Group, which owns the Odnoklassniki social network and Vkontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook, said that around 25 million Ukrainians could be affected by the “politically motivated” decision. “We have never been involved in politics. We have not broken a single law of Ukraine,” it said in a statement. It said the Ukrainian market contributed an “immaterial” amount of revenue and so would not revise its financial plans.

Yandex declined comment and there was no immediate comment from other companies on the list. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that Moscow had not forgotten the principle of reciprocity when it came to such disputes, calling the move “short-sighted.”
Many of the affected sites are hugely popular in Ukraine.  Vkontakte was the second-most visited website in Ukraine as of March, according to data cited by the Ukrainian Internet Association. Yandex, Odnoklassniki and were also in the top five most popular sites that month.

In comments to Russian newspaper Kommersant, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova called the sanctions a “manifestation of politically motivated censorship”.

Moscow has repeatedly denied accusations from Kiev that it has been waging a “cyber war” on Ukraine at the same time as it fuels Ukraine’s separatist conflict by supporting rebels with troops and weapons. Ukraine has also accused Russian computer hackers of targeting its power grid, financial system and other infrastructure with viruses. – Reuters

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