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Russia detains man in Buryatia for allegedly trying to convince soldiers to defect to Ukraine

by Nate Ostiller and The Kyiv Independent news desk November 8, 2023 1:12 PM 2 min read
Natives from the Russian region of Buryatia protest in front of the Russian General Consulate on Jan. 7, 2023, against the arrest of activist and journalist Natalia Filonova (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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A man in the eastern Siberian republic of Buryatia was arrested by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) for allegedly working with Ukrainian intelligence to convince Russian soldiers to defect once they reached the front, Russian state-run media TASS reported on Nov. 8, citing the FSB's press office.

The suspect used "false information" to "discredit" the Russian military, the FSB claimed. The man was charged with treason.

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin signed a decree in April 2023 raising the maximum punishment for treason to life in prison.

Russian authorities have regularly charged perceived opponents of the regime with treason, a practice that started before the beginning of the full-scale invasion in 2022. The crackdown on public expression has significantly grown since then. As Russian law enforcement is notoriously closed about its practices, it is impossible to say if there is any validity to the charges.

In addition, the charge of "discrediting the military" has been widely applied, resulting in the criminalization of any criticism of the invasion or contradiction of Russian propaganda.

Two men in occupied Crimea were fined 40,000 rubles each ($400) in October for "publicly discrediting the Russian army" after they were caught listening to a Ukrainian song in public.

The two men were fined for playing the song "Good evening, we are from Ukraine."

Ukraine has encouraged the defection of Russian soldiers, especially if they bring military equipment with them.

A 24-hour hotline, called "I Want to Live" in Russian, was released by Ukraine's Main Directorate of Intelligence in September 2022 to help Russians to surrender themselves or their units to the Ukrainian military.

A Russian helicopter pilot defected in August 2023, landing his Mi-8 helicopter at an airfield in Ukraine to give himself up to the authorities. Ukraine's Military Intelligence (HUR) said he would receive the hryvnia equivalent of $500,000 (approximately Hr 18 million).

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