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Chairman of the Russian State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin announced that the Duma could ratify amendments to the Russian Criminal Code as soon as March 14. Those will introduce harsher punishments for discrediting participants of what Russia calls a "special military operation" including "volunteers," the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest assessment.
Russia hides the brutal large-scale invasion behind the rhetoric of a “special military operation” to “demilitarize” Ukraine.
The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) labels irregular armed formations fighting in Ukraine — specifically the Wagner Group — as volunteers. According to Volodin, punishments would include a fine of up to five million rubles (about $66,450), five years of correctional or forced labor, or a sentence of 15 years in prison.
The ISW assessed on Feb. 26 that Putin has allowed the ultranationalist community "to expand its influence at the expense of the Russian Ministry of Defense" so the Kremlin can leverage the community’s pre-established networks to recruit volunteers.
"The Kremlin likely seeks to mitigate further pushback from the pro-war ultranationalist community, which continues to look up to Putin as the facilitator of the war despite their criticisms of the conduct of the war," the ISW found. The State Duma will likely pass these amendments on March 14, given Volodin’s announcement. "The Kremlin could use these amendments to promote self-censorship among select military bloggers whose constituencies are no longer needed for its force generation or crowdfunding campaigns, or whose criticisms have exceeded the Kremlin’s tolerance for open criticism."