Sanctions on Russian online platforms

Decree of the President of Ukraine No 133/2017

May 15, 2017

President of Ukraine; National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDC)

May 17, 2017

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Blocking of Russian online platforms

Limited the use of Russian social media, which is an environment with the almost unlimited spread of content potentially detrimental to national security. Created a precedent for further use of sanctions for website blocking and as an instrument of internal policy.

Act’s description and legal basis

The Decree of the President of Ukraine No 133/2017 imposed sanctions on 1228 natural persons from the Russian Federation involved in illegal persecution and actions against Ukrainian citizens and 468 legal entities. It was considered that their activity threatened Ukraine’s information and cyber security. The legal basis for such a measure is contained in the Law of Ukraine “On Sanctions”. Under its provisions, the legal grounds for sanctions imposition are:

  • actions which create real and/or potential threats to the national interests, national security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine, promote terrorist activities, and/or violate the rights and freedoms of a person and a citizen, the interests of society and the state, lead to the occupation of the territory, expropriation or limitation of property rights, cause property damages, create obstacles to sustainable economic development, full exercise of rights and freedoms by citizens of Ukraine;
  • resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations;
  • decisions and regulations of the Council of the European Union;
  • facts of violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Charter of the United Nations.

It also provides a non-exhaustive list of sanctions that can be imposed on natural and legal persons on the condition that such sanctions comply with the sanctions imposition principles established by this Law. These principles are legality, transparency, objectivity, fitness for a purpose, and effectiveness.

Regarding online resources, the sanction not mentioned in the Law directly was applied: “prohibition for the Internet service providers to provide Internet users with access to resources/services/socially oriented resources”. The prohibition was imposed on websites of “” email service, “Yandex” search engine and related services, “Kaspersky” and “Dr. Web” antivirus services, as well as two major Russian social media, namely “Vkontakte” and “Odnoklassniki”. The terms of imposed sanctions varied from one to three years. However, due to the short-term duration of sanctions, some were renewed by repeatedly blocking websites for one or three years. As of now, “Vkontakte”, “Odnoklassniki” and “” remain blocked till 14 May 2023, while “Yandex” search engine is blocked till 21 May 2024.


Since May 2017, the Presidents of Ukraine widely used website blocking as a sanction in over 20 similar decrees. The formulations of such sanctions were modified: other decrees used such wording as … “blocking by the Internet service providers of access to the Internet resource”, “prohibition for the Internet service providers to provide customers with the traffic termination and transit services to the electronic address in the Internet”, “restriction by the providers of electronic services (social media services) of access to content from the territory of Ukraine”. As of March 2023, more than 700 web resources are restricted in access. As can be seen from the above, the current procedure of sanctions’ imposition leads to the ultimate negative legal effects. The incoherence in the measures’ design and their further implementation creates a demand for further legislative clarification. 

Despite that, the practice of sanctions had significant factual effects on user and consumer behavior in Ukraine. Firstly, “Vkontakte” has been inactive in removing illegal content even prior to the sanctions’ imposition, although during the post-sanction period, it has become a breeding ground for the “Russian world” messages. Since the Ukrainian audience decreased, pro-Russian narratives became even more radicalized in nature. With the escalation of the war between Russia and Ukraine in 2022, Russian social media have been used as a platform for spreading hate speech, propaganda, and incitement to violence. 

Secondly, recent data demonstrate a drastic reduction in the popularity of blocked social media. For example, in August 2017, following the implementation of sanctions, “Vkontakte” and “Odnoklassniki” had left the top-10 rating in the most popular websites in Ukraine, taking the 11th and 25th place, respectively. In 2021, however, said social media were not even on the list, which confirms Ukrainian users flow to other more human-rights-obedient services. In this respect, even the leeways like VPN did not affect the general ratings. Thus, we evidence the relative effectiveness of the sanctions, which eliminated a major source of the Russian state and state-inspired propaganda and, thus, made the Ukrainian population better prepared and more resilient to Russian narratives and disinformation during the full-scale invasion.