Russians Run Censorship Of Ukrainian Media

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 35

In the best traditions of investigative journalism, the opposition Ukrayinska Pravda (June 3 and 11) newspaper has uncovered, for the first time, how Ukrainian oligarchs and their Russian advisers censor the Ukrainian media. Censorship operates through the use of secret instructions (temnyky) sent to television stations advising them what they should cover and what they should ignore. Temnyky routinely advise that the opposition should be either ignored or condemned. Temnyky only appeared after Viktor Mededchuk, leader of the Kyiv clan’s Social Democratic United Party (SDPU-o), was appointed head of the presidential administration in May 2002. They are issued daily to state and private television stations. Journalists have leaked many temnyky and the practice has been severely condemned both in Ukraine and abroad. The US-based NGO Human Rights Watch issued a major study of temnyky in March 2003 (http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/ukraine0303/).

Temnyky grew out of close links developed between the SDPU-o and Gleb Pavlovsky’s Fund for Effective Politics (FEP) since the 1999 Ukrainian elections. Pavlovsky has been a long-time adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Pavlovsky’s co-workers in Ukraine include Russian “political technologists” Marat Gelman and Igor Shuvalov. The FEP assisted in establishing a Ukrainian branch, called Center for Effective Politics (TEP). The only publicly known work undertaken by TEP was its revamp of Kuchma’s web site in 2002 (www.president.gov.ua). TEP is a private commercial company owned by well-known Kyiv political commentator Mikhail Pogrebynsky. He also heads the non-commercial Kyiv Center for Political and Conflict Studies (KTPK) think tank. TEP undertakes “political consultancy” but refuses to disclose identities of clients. Unlike other think tanks and NGO’s, the KTPK has refused to disclose the source of its funding. Meanwhile, Pogrebynsky has supported denunciations by the Communists and the pro-presidential camp of western assistance to Ukrainian NGO’s, a step indicating that the source of his funds is non-western. Pogrebynsky denied any involvement in temnyky by either TEP or KTPK (Ukrayinska Pravda, June 9). But, in its two in-depth reports, Ukrayinska Pravda (June 3 and 11) has demonstrated otherwise, based on a large collection of temnyky leaked by journalists. On many of the electronic versions of temnyky in the possession of Ukrayinska Pravda, files contain “cep.ua” with different author names. Individuals whose e-mail addresses include “@cep.org.ua” also send the temnyky. The domain name “cep.ua” refers to Pogrebynsky’s TEP, based at the same Kyiv address. Technical staff at TEP also service Kuchma’s website.

A particular area of TEP’s work is the section within www.president.gov.ua, devoted to constitutional reform (www.reform.org.ua). In 2003-2004, during debates on constitutional reform, reform.org.ua included numerous bogus Soviet-style letters of support that could have been written by Pogrebynsky’s organizations. Information from the presidential administration’s press department is utilized in temnyky. Another place this information is re-written is on the rabidly anti-opposition temnyk.com.ua, which shares the same IP address as Pogrebynsky’s KTPK.

Evidence of the Russian link comes through Pavlovsky, Gelman and Shuvalov who have never denied their close cooperation with the SDPU-o (Zerkalo Nedeli, November 22-28, 2003). Shuvalov works in Ukraine and is reputed to be one of the main authors of temnyky (www.telekritka.kiev.ua March 23), a factor that could explain why they are issued only in Russian. Russian media sources describe Shuvalov as a Russian expert employed in the Ukrainian Presidential Administration. Shuvalov has a “@cep.org.ua” e-mail address.

Shuvalov’s ties to the pro-Kuchma camp date back to the 1999 elections, when he assisted in Kuchma’s successful re-election and in the unsuccessful election bid as Kyiv mayor of SDPU-o leading oligarch Hryhoriy Surkis. In the 2002 elections, Shuvalov assisted in launching the unsuccessful Winter Crop Generation (KOP) party, modeled on Russia’s Union of Right Forces, which obtained a paltry 2.02 percent. Shuvalov’s name is not to be found in those officially declared as employed by the presidential administration. This is not surprising as the SDPU-o and the presidential administration overlap, and Shuvalov could be employed directly by the former while, at the same time, working indirectly for the latter. The investigative reports by Ukrayinska Pravda and other media outlets indicate that Pogrebynsky’s think tank (KTPK) and commercial political consultancy (TEP) are both controlled by the SDPU-o. The SDPU-o press service often sends releases through KTPK (Ukrayinska Pravda, June 15). TEP also sends out temnyky written by “Oleksandr”, “Masha” and “Olena” whose email addresses include “@cep.org.ua”. Some of these authors also write for the SDPU-o funded anti-opposition www.temnyk.com.ua. Medvedchuk who heads both it and the SDPU-o show the link with the presidential administration. Some of the temnyky are addressed to “Dear Serhiy Leonidovych, which refers to Serhiy Vasylev, head of the information policy department of the presidential administration (Ukrayinska Pravda, June 11).

The presidential administration has delegated the production of temnyky to TEP which uses its own analysts and Russian citizens, such as Shuvalov. These temnyky are sent to television stations and are re-written for use by anti-opposition media outlets. Either the SDPU-o or the presidential administration — or both — fund TEP and KTPK. President Leonid Kuchma publicly denied that temnyky existed in talks with philanthropist George Soros during his April visit to Ukraine. Vasylev also denied that he was behind temnyky or that they even existed. These denials are no longer convincing as temnyky clearly do exist in Ukraine. The daily manufacture of temnyky reveals a high degree of legal nihilism and deception in Ukraine in three areas.

First, as a Russian citizen, Shuvalov cannot officially work for the Ukrainian presidential administration. Yet, Russian citizens with close ties to Putin’s administration are at the center of censorship of Ukraine’s media through temnyky. Second, by allowing Russia to directly interfere in Ukraine’s media through censorship instructions, President Kuchma is violating the constitution’s 2003 law on national security and a host of other laws. Third, although censorship is illegal in the Ukrainian constitution and legal system, this is ignored, as temnyky are clear examples of censorship.