Ukraine: FAQ on the Freedom of Speech Issues in Terms of Hybrid War

Ukraine: FAQ on the Freedom of Speech Issues in Terms of Hybrid War

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Ukrinform
The freedom of speech is one of the core values underlying modern democracies. In the era of hybrid warfare, to strike a balance between ensuring freedom of expression and securing national interests is a challenge.

 Since 2014, Ukraine repeatedly faced accusations of restricting the freedom of speech and violating journalists` rights. However, if to take a closer look at several cases, it becomes clear that it is a matter of counteracting hybrid threats, not suppressing one`s freedoms or rights.

Although Ukraine is exposed to the continuing Russian aggression, the occupation of the sovereign territory of Ukraine in violation of all international norms, the use by the aggressor State of some media of various forms of ownership in order for intelligence services to carry out special information operations in the information space of Ukraine and other States, the state does comply with all obligations and international standards of freedom of speech. This is confirmed by the positive dynamics of Ukraine in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by the international organization Reporters without Borders. According to this rating, Ukraine has risen by one position and is ranked 101st.

Why Did Ukraine Ban Some Russian Media For Three Years?

It is common knowledge that since 2014 Ukraine has been subjected to the hybrid aggression of the Russian Federation. This aggression manifested not only in the illegal occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and military aggression in Donetsk and Luhansk regions but also in unprecedented disinformation and propagandistic campaign against Ukraine. With a view to establishing a legal framework to counter the aggression, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the Law of Ukraine “On Sanctions” (hereinafter referred to as the Law) on 14 August 2014.

Article 1 of the Law states that, with a view to protecting national interests, national security, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, countering terrorist activities, as well as preventing infringement of rights and restoring infringed rights, freedoms and lawful interests of citizens of Ukraine, society and the state special economic and other restrictive measures (hereinafter referred to as ‘sanctions’) may be taken.

The Law provides for a mechanism of submitting proposals pertinent to the application of sanctions, their consideration, and use on reasonable grounds. In particular, the grounds for applying sanctions include actions of a foreign state, an external legal or natural entity, or other actors which constitute actual and/or potential threats to national interests, national security, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine; contribute to terrorist activities and/or violate rights and freedoms. of the person and citizen, and interests of society and the state; result in the occupation of territory, extortion, restriction on the right to property, infliction of damage to property, hampering sustainable economic development, the full-fledged exercise by Ukrainian citizens of their rights and freedoms.

Besides, the Law stipulates that sanctions shall be applied based on the principles of lawfulness, transparency, objectivity, appropriateness, and effectiveness.

The Law further states that the decision as to the application, removal, and modification of sanctions with respect to particular foreign legal entities, legal entities under control of a foreign legal entity or a non-resident foreign natural entity, foreigners, stateless persons, as well as individuals and organizations implicated in terrorist activities (personal sanctions) shall be adopted by the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine and shall be enacted by a decree of the President of Ukraine.

This means that the application of sanctions is an issue of national security and defense of Ukraine, and the procedure of their use is explicitly set out in the current legislation of Ukraine.

As regards the application of sanctions against Russian legal entities claiming to be mass media, the following should be pointed out.

During recent years, certain Russian journalists have wholly abandoned standards of journalism. In particular, there has been systematic violation of practically all principles of the journalist’s conduct, approved in the Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists, which was adopted at the 2nd World Congress of the International Federation of Journalists (Bordeaux, 25–28 April 1954) as amended at the IFJ 18th World Congress (Helsingör, 2–6 June 1986). One of the visionaries of modern ‘Russian journalism,’ Dmitry Kiselyov, noted:

“the time of distilled journalism is gone. It is not possible even in theory. In the vast ocean of information, the selection is either subjective or subject to the editorial policy.”

Today these mass media are one of the tools at the disposal of Russia’s leadership to wage large-scale hybrid aggression against Western states, of which destructive information activities is an important part.

In 2016 the European Parliament adopted the Resolution clearly defining Russian media such as Sputnik as ‘pseudo news agencies.’ It is indicative that this document has already constituted a precedent. On 28 August 2017, the Government of Estonia of referring to it in reply to the Council of Europe Platform alert regarding the non-admission (refusal to accredit) of journalists of the International News Agency “Rossiya Segodnya” (Russia Today) to the meeting of ministers for foreign affairs of the EU states.

Attention is drawn in particular to the fact that Recommendations CM/Rec(2016)4 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors state that

“the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it duties and responsibilities, as indicated in Article 10, paragraph 2 [of the European Convention on Human Rights]. In the context of journalism, relevant duties and responsibilities are understood as including acting in good faith to provide accurate and reliable information, under the ethics of journalism”

Given the abovementioned rules, adopted by the European community, distribution of information in violation of the generally recognized rules and standards of journalism may not be regarded as mass media activities.

May we invite your attention in particular to Article 10, paragraph 2 of the Convention, which reads that ‘the exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.’

In addition, President of France Emmanuel Macron at a joint conference with Vladimir Putin noted that such resources as RT and Sputnik are agents of influence, and their activity has no bearing on journalism.

All the mentioned above testify to the recognition by European institutions and states of an actual threat of manipulative and propagandistic nature posed by Russian agencies which present themselves as mass media.

Furthermore, in analyzing the nature of the application of sanctions against such legal entities, it worth realizing that the priority aim of applying sanction is not restricting access to anti-Ukrainian propaganda and disinformation materials but the public recognition of Russia-controlled resources as constituting a threat to the national security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Therefore, the effectiveness of sanctions is determined, first of all, by the public recognition of such resources as an instrument for manipulations and propaganda of the aggressor State, as envisaged by the Law.

In the light of the above, the application of extraordinary economic and other restrictive measures (sanctions) against legal entities which are used as a tool of hybrid aggression by the Russian Federation and which systematically distribute anti-Ukrainian propaganda is an issue of national security and defence of Ukraine, and it is, therefore, inappropriate to consider this issue in the context of the right to freedom of speech.

Why Is RIA Novosti Journalist Kyrylo Vyshynsky Held on Treason Allegations in Ukraine?

According to the Law of Ukraine “On Access to Public Information,” adopted in 2011, and the Law of Ukraine “On Information,” the accreditation institute (including for foreign journalists) was radically reformed. In particular, the procedure for accreditation of foreign journalists (i.e., permission to carry out professional activities, which is very common in European states) was canceled, which confirms Ukraine’s aspiration to implement the values of media freedom and the free circulation of information in practice.

At the same time, some foreign and Ukrainian organizations and their representatives exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms to carry out activities aimed at promoting the aggressor State’s efforts to violate territorial integrity of Ukraine, disseminate calls to overthrow the constitutional order, legitimize the occupation of some regions of Ukraine in violation of international law, and promote calls for incitement to interethnic and interracial enmity, which is defined by rules of a number of European countries as “hate speech”.

In 2013, President of Russian Federation Vladimir Putin appointed the author and presenter of the Russian television program Vesti Nedeli, Russian citizen Dmitry K. Kiselyov as Director General of the newly created federal state unitary enterprise Mezhdunarodnoye Informatzyonnoye Agentstvo “Rossiya Segodnya” (International News Agency “Russia Today”; hereinafter referred to as INA Russia Today) by Decrees No 894 and 895 dated 09 December 2013 “On Certain Measures to Increase the Efficiency of State Media Activities”.

This happened the day after the scandalous release of this program on the television channel Rossiya-1 (Russia-1), which was the subject of an unequivocal decision of the Russian Public board on complaints against the press.

The same Decree №894 eliminated the federal state unitary enterprise RIA Novosti, on the basis of which INA Russia Today was founded.

It should be noted that Russian media experts and journalists negatively assessed this reform of state media assets of the Russian Federation itself as a potential threat to freedom of speech.

In consequence, Anna Kachkayeva, Dean of the Faculty of Media Communications of Higher School of Economics (Russia), noted on “Radio “Echo of Moscow” that this was “a serious signal of possible curtailment of freedom of speech in Russia.”

In an interview to BBC Russia, Pavel Gutionov, Secretary of the Union of Journalists of the Russian Federation and Chairman of the Committee on the Protection of Freedom of Speech and the Rights of Journalists, expressed the same negative attitude towards the reorganization of Russian state media assets.

In early 2014, RIA Novosti Ukraine as a representation with legal status was eliminated. In autumn of the same year, Mr. Kyrylo Vyshynsky, a citizen of Ukraine, registered on his name legal entities with attributes of fictitiousness, which were later used, among other things, to publish content on the sitehttps://rian.com.ua/, working under the name RIA Novosti Ukraine.

In terms of the law, the Russian state television channel RT is not part of MIA Russia Today, nor was it part of the news agency RIA Novosti. The representation of this TV channel in Ukraine does not exist. Therefore, there is no reason to talk about any legal relationship between the Russian state television channel RT and the web page that disseminates information under the name of RIA Novosti Ukraine.

Attention should also be drawn to the following. According to the Copyright Rules of MIA Russia Today, accessible on the website of the Russian state news agency, the resources of MIA Russia Today are the following Internet sites and applications:

- ria.ru

- inosmi.ru

- 1prime.ru

- rsport.ru

- riarealty.ru

- riarating.ru

- crimea.ria.ru

- 9may.ru

- RIA Novosti app

- InoSMI app

- pressmia.ru

- fmf.ria.ru

- smartcity.ria.ru

- stenincontest.ru

- konkurs-impulse.ru

According to an official statement by INA ‘Russia Today’, the websitehttps://rian.com.ua/, which is actually a website that posts information under the name of RIA Novosti Ukraine, is not included in the list of resources of the Russian state information agency.

The nature of the activity of the website RIA Novosti Ukraine and the persons supporting it, as retrieved by the authorized bodies, was as follows.

Within the framework of the reform of offices of the former agency RIA Novosti abroad, Mr. Kiselyov (Director-General of INA Russia Today) decided to reform the office of the abovementioned organization in Ukraine, RIA Novosti Ukraine, without founding the appropriate legal entity. Zakhar Vinogradov, a Russian citizen and project manager of the Direction of the Near Abroad Countries at INA Russia Today, was appointed responsible for the reform. At the same time, it was decided to keep the old name of the office, RIA Novosti Ukraine, despite the change of the parent structure of RIA Novosti within INA Russia Today.

According to Mr. Kiselyov’s decision, Mr. Vinogradov chose Kyrylo Vyshynskyi as the future head of the reformed office. Mr. Vyshynskyi is a Ukrainian journalist who worked with Mr. Kiselyov on Ukrainian ICTV channel in the 2000s and, at the time of the described events, was a correspondent of the All-Russian State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) in Ukraine.

In March 2014, Mr. Vyshynskyi and Iryna Kedrovska, a Russian citizen and First Deputy Head of the Joint Editorial Board of INA Russia Today, worked out and agreed on the concept of the reformed office in Ukraine.

According to the concept, the primary purpose of the office led by Mr. Vyshynskyi, among other things, was “the systematic publication in Ukraine’s media space information and analytical materials that are in line with the foreign policy interests of the Russian Federation, the provision of information support to the foreign policy activities of the President and Government of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, informing the Ukrainian diaspora in the countries of Europe, Asia and America about the foreign policy of the Russian Federation in the Ukrainian context, and information support of foreign policy initiatives of the Russian Federation in Ukraine. The duties of the head of the said office included the general management of the office, financial and administrative work, and the definition of the main areas of activity and structural units, the control over ideological and political content.”

It should be stressed that RIA Novosti Ukraine is not officially part of ‘the Russian state news agency’, is not registered in Ukraine as mass media, is not listed on the register of news agencies under the Law of Ukraine “On Information Agencies”, and is not registered under Ukrainian law as an office of any of the Russian state news agencies registered in accordance with Russian national law.

Under item 3 of paragraph 2 of article 26 of the Law of Ukraine “On Printed Mass Media (Press) in Ukraine,” a journalist is obliged to submit objective and reliable information for publication. According to article 25 of the above Law and article 1 of the Law of Ukraine “On State Support to Mass Media and Social Protection of Journalists,” the purpose of the journalistic activity is the collection, reception, creation, and processing of information for mass media.

According to Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, as far as the concept of the work and functions of the unofficial office of INA Russia Today in Ukraine is concerned, the work of this structure since its foundation has been incompatible with the concept of journalism and journalistic activity.

In the meantime, it should be noted that Mr. Vyshynskyi, who was charged with a criminal offense, is a Ukrainian citizen and not a foreign journalist.

Given that the Russian Federation has begun the temporary occupation of the Ukrainian territory since 20 February 2014 and, in accordance with the Law of Ukraine “On the Defence of Ukraine”, has been recognized as an aggressor State, the activity of Mr. Vyshynskyi and the structures headed by him meant, in fact, the promotion of the unlawful activity of the aggressor State in violation of international and Ukrainian law.

From March to May 2014 Mr. Vyshynskyi in cooperation with Mr. Vinogradov posted on the RIA Novosti Ukraine website a number of publications which, according to the expert opinion, were biased and aimed not at the objective news coverage but at the division of Ukrainian society, the creation of separatist and autonomist sentiments, and incitement to interethnic and interreligious enmity.

Different authors made those publications at the request of the Moscow office of INA Russia Today, where they were proofread. They were placed on the site by Mr. Vyshynskyi under the orders of Mr. Vinogradov as well.

In particular, according to law enforcement agencies, on 12 March 2014 Mr. Vyshynskyi worked out and agreed with his Russian curators a plan for news coverage of the unlawful referendum on the secession of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol from Ukraine and their accession to the Russian Federation on the RIA Novosti Ukraine site, that he controlled.

Illustrative is the fact that Mr. Vyshynskyi called it “a referendum on the accession of Crimea to Russia,” although even in the Russian Federation it was officially called “a referendum on the territorial affiliation of Crimea.”

Paragraph 6 of the said plan of coverage provided for the retrieving of comments on the procedural issues of Crimea’s accession to the Russian Federation. That is, as far back as 12 March 2014 Mr. Vyshynskyi knew beforehand about the result of the “referendum” held on 16 March 2014 and covered it respectively.

The nature of Mr. Vyshynskyi’s activity is further confirmed by the awards “For the Return of Crimea” and “For Merits,” which were found at the place of his actual residence with documents proving that they belong to him. Such awards are given by the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation as a reward for successful military operations.

Also, to conceal the legal relationship with INA Russia Today, Mr. Vyshynskyi came up with a scheme of financing RIA Novosti Ukraine using allegedly fictitious Ukrainian legal entities. To this end, an agreement was signed with a Serbian company (also allegedly fictitious) on the creation of content for the website. The funds for such services were transferred via the Russian bank VTB in Ukraine and Germany. Subsequently, legal entities controlled by Mr. Vyshynsky signed similar contracts with employees of RIA Novosti Ukraine as self-employed individuals.

Therefore, by using the scheme of financing via allegedly fictitious companies without proper registration in Ukraine, Mr. Vyshynskyi had been operating RIA Novosti Ukraine and systematically distributing propagandistic and deceptive materials in Ukrainian information space which included calls for the violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and justified the aggression of the Russian Federation in Crimea and Donbas.

This is also confirmed by non-governmental organizations actively supported by European countries and international organizations, in particular by information from the StopFake NGO.

For instance, on 20 December 2017, the agency RIA Novosti Ukraine reportedthat “Ukraine [is] the poorest country in Europe,” which was debunked by StopFake volunteers. On 14 May 2017, RIA Novosti Ukraine reported that President of Ukraine Mr. Petro Poroshenko allegedly offered to “cut off the Donbass and abandon it,” which was debunked by StopFake volunteers. On 12 September 2017, RIA Novosti Ukraine reported that the Ukrainian Government is allegedly “repressing the languages of national minorities,” which was debunked by StopFake volunteers.

According to law enforcement agencies, such work on the creation and distribution of printed materials has signs of crime under articles 110 (“Encroachment on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine’) and 161 (“Violation of the equality of citizens depending on their racial, national affiliation, religious beliefs, disability and on other grounds”) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

Besides, given the proven fact of financing from the federal budget of the Russian Federation, there are reasons to assert that Mr. Vyshynskyi was actively involved in the invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea and part of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions.

According to the Security Service of Ukraine, it also has further evidence of Mr. Vyshynskyi’s direct involvement in assisting Russian structures in information aggression against Ukraine. This evidence was set out in the course of the court hearing on the selection and application of preventive measures against Mr. Vyshynsky in case No 766/22242/17, which resulted inResolution of the Kherson City Court of Kherson Region (н/п 1-кс/766/5856/18) on 17 May 2018. The Court examined the materials of law enforcement agencies and decided to take Mr. Vyshynskyi into custody.

Do Ukrainian MP or General Prosecutor’s Spokeswoman Threaten Journalists?

On 30th May 2018, Larissa Sargan, spokeswoman of the General Prosecutor of Ukraine, posted on her Facebook page a list of 26 FB-users, who criticized the law enforcement authorities after the information about the “murder” of Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko in Kyiv. The “murder” was, in fact, an operation in which Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) faked Babchenkos’s assassination to save him and to get more evidences on the mandator in one’s killing.

The spokeswoman for the Attorney-General of Ukraine Larysa Sarhan writes in the post about those who “sparked another wave of ‘zrada’ while all law enforcement officers were carrying out the #babchenko special operation… Let’s see how they will apologize”.

The picture published by Ms. Sarhan features a girl with a quill in her hand and the text below: “I put you on the list of zradophiles, but this time in pencil.”

This text does not contain any accusations of high treason but instead attempts to make ashamed those who rushed into criticizing law enforcement agencies for being incapable of protecting lives of journalists, which proved false.

The text of Ms. Sarhan’s post features the word ‘zrada’ (betrayal), which since 2014 is commonly used in Ukraine, including in all kinds of media (from social media to television channels). In addition, the picture published by Ms. Sarhan features the similarly common word ‘zradophile’ (a derivative from‘zrada,’ meaning someone who likes speaking or writing about ‘zrada,’ i.e., tends to point out Ukraine’s failures and criticize its achievements).

The words ‘zrada’ and ‘zradophile’ became memes (commonly used words denoting a social phenomenon) amid intense military repulsion of Russian aggression in Donbas, which was accompanied by large-scale information aggression including mass distribution of information about deaths or encirclements of Ukrainian servicemen or about failures to supply them with weapons or provisions.

Ukrainian servicemen have recurrently fallen prey to special operations of Russian occupational forces by receiving text messages about their inevitable defeat or death, which were designed to force them into desertion or opposition to their commanders.

Therefore, events in Ukraine’s information space have led to the emergence of common word ‘zrada’ having many connotations and meanings (i.e., unmotivated confidence that Ukrainian law enforcement agencies are incompetent and incapable of performing their functions), and in this case, does not mean ‘high treason’ or an accusation thereof.

In the meantime, the alert on the Council of Europe Platform, as well as astatement by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir, contain the word ‘traitors.’ It should be noted that the post by the spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Ms. Sarhan, does not contain the word ‘traitors’ but features the meme ‘zradophiles,’ i.e., those who like writing about ‘zrada.’

The expert of the Kharkiv human rights protection group Halya Coynash expressed the same position on this matter. She wrote:

 It can certainly be argued that such point-scoring is not behaviour we should expect from either Lutsenko, or his spokesperson. There was, however, no accusation of treason, only an attempt to show up those who had been swift to criticize the law enforcement bodies.”

In this regard, the fact that employees of the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media or their NGO partners may deliberately or negligently (perhaps because of lack of skills of translation from Ukrainian into English) misinform the leadership of those authoritative European structures, which might affect their international reputation, is highly alarming.

In addition, according to the current legislation of Ukraine, a person’s page on the Facebook social media is not an official source of information and is considered a personal space where citizens of Ukraine may freely express their position by means authorized in Ukrainian legislation unless they are indicative of a criminal or administrative offense.

As for the alleged ‘verbal attack’ of the First Vice Chairwoman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Iryna Herashchenko, on the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine head, when she accused the union of co-operating with the “Kremlin propagandists”, the following information shall be taken into account.

A speech by the people’s deputy of Ukraine, Ms Herashchenko, during the morning session of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on 16 May 2018 is accessible on the YouTube channel of the Verkhovna Rada (time code 35:52).

By Article 10, paragraph 5 of the Law of Ukraine “On the Status of the People’s Deputy of Ukraine,” “people’s deputies shall not be legally accountable for results of voting or statements at the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and its bodies, except in cases of offense or defamation.”

In the course of her speech, the people’s deputy, Ms. Herashchenko, expressed her concern at the absence of public statements of international organizations concerning gross violations of journalists’ rights (for instance, the unlawful imprisonment of journalists Stanislav Aseiev and Roman Sushchenko). Ms. Herashchenko also noted that she had inquired the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine (NUJU) about those unacceptable incidents.

According to Ms. Herashchenko, the above organization does not monitor (and, respectively, do not respond to) violations of rights and the creation of threats to the safety of journalists in occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Ms. Herashchenko also thanked the journalists and media who provided her with information about shootings to which journalists have or could have fallen victim, about journalists held captive, and about other illegal restrictions of their freedom. She told that this information would be transmitted to international organizations.

Ms. Herashchenko also expressed her surprise at the signing by the NUJU Chairman, Serhiy Tomilenko, of a joint statement with the ‘propagandistic Russian Union of Journalists’ (RUJ). The people’s deputy was also indignant at calls ‘to visit occupied Crimea,’ contained in the joint statement by the NUJU and the RUJ.

Such actions of the NUJU have been recurrently criticized by the Ukrainian journalistic community, NGOs and media experts that do not support cooperation with the RUJ in connection with the possibility that its workers might be used in hybrid aggression against Ukraine and with a view to the legitimization of the unlawful occupation of Crimea.

Therefore, the actions of the people’s deputy of Ukraine, Ms. Herashchenko, who was elected to the Parliament of Ukraine in the course of an independent and popular vote under Ukrainian law, is not a ‘verbal attack’ but a free expression of her opinion.

Why International Organizations Do Not Respond to Murders of Journalists by Kremlin?

Meanwhile, there is primary information on who could be involved in theassassination of journalist Orhan Dzhemal, filmmaker Alexander Rastorguyev and cameraman Kirill Radchenko in Central African Republic.

The representatives of international organizations have tweeted about the case, but no official statements by OSCE RFOM were made.

According to the Russian investigation group Conflict Intelligence Team, journalists came to the CAR to shoot a documentary about the activities of the Russian mercenaries (so called “Wagner” Private Military Company) in Africa at the request of the Investigation Management Center, supported by Khodorkovsky’s funds. To prevent the disclosure of information, the militants of the private military company “Wagner” who knew the routes of the shooting group, arranged the ambush and killed journalists. They also prepared and published an official legend that the investigators became victims of local robbers.

It should be recalled that the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine has repeatedly raised the issue of international law violations by Russia using mercenaries abroad with the Western partners. We held a roundtable on crimes of the so-called PMC Wagner in Brussels as well as transmitted the information on the prosecution of Denis Korotkov (Fontanka.ru), a journalist from St. Petersburg investigating PMC Wagner`s activity, to the representatives of international organizations (in particular to Ricardo Gutiérrez, General Secretary of the European Federation of Journalists).

Earlier this year Russian investigative journalist Maksim Borodin from Yekaterinburg died of injuries sustained on April 12 when he fell from the window of his fifth-floor apartment.

Borodin regularly wrote on crime and corruption in Russia. In March 2018, he wrote extensively about the deaths of Russian mercenaries fighting in Syria, identifying several fighters from the Urals city of Asbest who had been killed. On February 7, a group of Russian mercenaries with tanks and artillery attacked territory held by U.S.-backed opponents of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S.-led international coalition responded with air strikes that are believed to have killed dozens of Russian fighters.

Ukrainian journalists, bloggers and volunteers as well as official government bodies many times published materials and evidences on the violation of the international law and participation of Russian individuals in unlawful military units, fighting in Ukraine, Syria and now Central African Republic and South Sudan (where Russian presence is mostly visible).

Unfortunately, the systematic ignorance of such signals by the international organizations responsible for the journalists’ protection led to the merciless assassination of the investigators` group in the African country. Moreover, the representatives of these international organizations systematically support those media that continue to silence the topic of Russian international crimes due to the complete censorship and self-censorship of the Russian media space.

Dmytro Zolotukhin, Deputy minister of information policy of Ukraine

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