One of the senior figures in the Donetsk People's Republic's (DPR) media operation is a Finnish citizen. Janus Putkonen, a Pernå-born Finn has a background in anti-establishment and conspiracy theory-based media, including his own website Verkkomedia.
He moved to eastern Ukraine from Thailand earlier this year in order to start an online news service and a media relations office based in the administrative buildings of the rebel region of Ukraine. He now has a staff of ten people and runs two websites, Dnipress and Doni News, in addition to media relations work.
"There has been a block on information flowing to the west," claimed Putkonen in an interview with Yle. "We offer foreign journalists contacts, interviews and visits to the front. The goal is to reduce ‘hotel room writing’ and give them an opportunity to experience things for themselves."
Yle spoke to one British journalist who confirmed that Putkonen does play an active role in fixing interviews and access to figures in the DPR’s administration and military structures.
The DPR is unrecognised by the international community, but receives some support from Russia in its demands for autonomy in a federal Ukraine.
Putkonen has become a public figure in Ukraine, appearing on a ‘Peacemaker’ list maintained by Ukrainian activists. The list includes information on some 9,000 people the activists describe as ‘terrorists’. Although the list is not an official Ukrainian government initiative, the founders have been rewarded for their work by the Ukrainian defence ministry.
Information warfare researcher Saara Jantunen places Putkonen in the so-called ‘Bäckman camp’, that is a group of individuals who share Johan Bäckman’s pro-Russian views. Bäckman often appears in the Russian media described as a ‘human rights activist’, criticising Finnish policy.
In Jantunen’s recent ’Infowars’ book, she cites several instances of Bäckman praising Putkonen on his blog. In one posting, he said that Putkonen ‘defends Donetsk 24 hours a day’.
"Donetsk is a victim of geopolitical struggles," said Putkonen. "It became clear to me when I came here for the first time on a press trip in March. I saw that this place needs communications and international media operations."
The Finnish Foreign Ministry said that it does not recognize the DPR and that Ukraine, as the country with jurisdiction over the region controlled by rebels, is the judge of whether Putkonen’s actions are legal or not.