The methods of information warfare waged against Ukraine are sometimes very exotic
On 16 February, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) served blogger Anatoliy Shariy with a notice of charges of high treason and violation of the equality of rights of citizens. Political refugee Shariy, who found asylum in Europe, is a well-known person.
The Russian-language video blog on YouTube, in which he comments on political life in Ukraine, has 2.4 million followers. Apparently, the SBU continues its fight against key figures who are waging an information war against Ukraine. On 2 February, sanctions were imposed against Taras Kozak, an ally of Viktor Medvedchuk and the nominal owner of the 112, ZIK and NewsOne TV channels, which, according to security services, were financed by funds obtained by criminal means, including through the sale of coal from the occupied Donbas.
By the decision of the National Security and Defence Council, the broadcasting of these channels, which openly conveyed pro-Kremlin messages, was stopped. Anatoliy Shariy was a regular guest on Medvedchuk-Kozak TV channels via video link. His speeches and videos were also regularly used by Russian propaganda channels.
The SBU notice, in particular, says that Shariy “carried out illegal activities to the detriment of Ukraine’s national security in the information sphere. There is reason to believe that Anatoliy Shariy acted on behalf of foreign structures… The evidence of the investigation is confirmed by a number of expert studies, which established that Shariy’s interviews and speeches contained facts of his subversive activities against Ukraine. He assisted state and non-state bodies of the Russian Federation in carrying out special information operations through social networks, online media outlets and Russian television channels… The goal was to aggravate and destabilise the socio-political and socio-economic situation, incite interethnic and interconfessional conflicts.”
Anatoliy Shariy appeared on the journalistic horizon of Ukraine as an author of women’s glossy magazines. Later, he retrained as an investigator and was repeatedly involved in various scandals. Apparently, Shariy quickly understood that a scandal was the best way to attract attention and increase popularity, so he consciously began to earn a scandalous reputation, which could later be monetised.
Part of his investigations during the reign of Yanukovych was related to offences in the system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine. In 2011, Anatoliy Shariy presented one of the episodes of journalistic activity as an attempted assassination of his life, which brought the journalist the image of a dangerous fighter against systemic corruption. Confrontation with the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs gave him an opportunity to move to the European Union and apply for refugee status, which was finally granted to him by Lithuania in 2012.
The SBU notice says that Shariy’s work with state and non-governmental bodies of the Russian Federation began in 2012, when he moved to Europe. But Anatoliy gained real popularity in 2014, when, in May, he launched his own YouTube channel, in which he began to “expose” the Ukrainian government in its confrontation with the separatists and the Russian occupiers. He was repeatedly caught spreading fakes and supporting Russia’s official position. In particular, Anatoliy Shariy tried to prove that the Malaysia Airlines Boeing aircraft was shot down by a Ukrainian Buk surface-to-air missile on 17 July 2014.
Apparently, “fraternal” help was provided in promoting Shariy’s YouTube channel: at the beginning of April 2017, it has a million followers, in two years this number doubled. Now his YouTube channel has 2.4 million followers and Facebook page is read by 350,000 people. Later Shariy started to criticise Alexey Navalny in his posts. He also published recordings of the interrogation of a witness who testified against Oleh Sentsov, a Ukrainian political prisoner held in Russia at that time. It is absolutely impossible to obtain such documents without the help of Russian special services.
The growth of Anatoliy Shariy’s public anti-Ukrainian activity coincided with a significant increase in the well-being of the exile. He moved to live in his own villa in the Spanish city of Roda de Bara. According to the investigation of the Slidstvo.Info project, its cost could reach one million euros.
In 2019, Shariy began to convert virtual popularity into a political result. The Party of Shariy was created, which took part in the parliamentary elections and gained 2.23% of vote across Ukraine and 5.55% vote particularly in Donetsk region. In the next year, 2020, representatives of the Party of Shariy entered city councils of Kharkiv, Odesa, Mariupol and Mykolaiv. That is, we can talk about Anatoliy Shariy not only as a blogger but also as a politician of an all-Ukrainian scale. Undoubtedly, all this testifies to the success of the Anatoliy Shariy political and propaganda project. But many, including the Security Service of Ukraine for some time now, believe that the success of this project depends largely on Russian resources, which has led to the high treason charges against Shariy.
It does mean that a person who uses the status of a political exile to defend and justify himself and a person persecuted at home for “truth” and political position will be held to account and that the channels of his influence on the information situation in Ukraine will be blocked. Europe is more inclined to tolerate abuse of freedom of speech than to risk being criticised for oppressing this right. Shariy himself will undoubtedly try to get as much benefit as possible from the new scandal. But it cannot be ruled out that at a certain time he will find himself where it is safer – in Russia.