UKRAINE LEGAL UPDATE
14 June 2022
A new law brands Russia a “Nazi terrorist state”, makes supporting its war against Ukraine illegal. The law also forbids public use of the invasion’s symbols, such as the Russian army’s insignia and letters Z and V.
The law prohibits making propaganda in favor of the “Russian Nazi totalitarian regime”, and its “armed aggression as a terrorist state” against Ukraine. Relevant propaganda includes spreading certain kinds of information and making certain kinds of public denials about Russia’s actions, as well as public use of specified Russia-related symbols. Making or distributing the symbols, whether in Ukraine or aboard, is also prohibited.
The first kind of propaganda involves spreading information intended to support or justify the “criminal nature of the actions” of the Russian Federation or its organs, officials, employees, servicemen or agents openly or secretly operating on behalf of Russia in Ukraine or from abroad. Note the use of the qualifying language in italics. It is not clear whether it is meant to narrow the actions’ scope or to create a presumption they are all criminal (likely the latter).
The second kind of propaganda relates to public denials of the criminal nature of Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine, including through the mass media or the internet.
The third kind of propaganda entails public use of the symbols of the military invasion of Ukraine by the “Russian Nazi totalitarian regime”. The symbols include, in particular:
Letters Z and V used as symbols of the invasion, subject to certain conditions;
Official or unofficial symbols (insignia) of Russia’s armed forces, including all its individual branches and units, as well as security, law enforcement and paramilitary organizations.
Using letters Z or V is illegal where:
A letter is used separately outside of a legitimate context or in the context of justifying the invasion or other military action (which likely implies an intent to justify the relevant acts); or
It is used to replace other letters in a word with a visual emphasis on the letter (here the requisite intent seems presumed from the visual emphasis made).
The prohibition against the use of the symbols is generally subject to the twin conditions of public display and their being intended as prohibited propaganda.
A symbol is deemed publicly displayed where it is placed in a public area or on materials distributed to the public, including in advertising through the mass media or on the internet.
A public display of a symbol is generally not illegal if it is not intended as prohibited propaganda. The law lists a symbol’s possible lawful uses, such as where it is used to condemn the aggression or if it is part of a trademark registered (or applied for) before 24 February 2022. In other cases the burden of showing the absence of the requisite seems to fall on the defendant.