Russia's State Duma, the lower house of parliament, reported on March 14 that it had ratified amendments to the Russian Criminal Code introducing harsher punishments for "discrediting participants" of Moscow's all-out war against Ukraine.
The new punishments include a fine of up to 5 million rubles (about $66,450), five years of correctional or forced labor (or seven years for "repeated discrediting that led to dangerous consequences"), as well as a sentence of 15 years in prison.
According to the amendments, Russians could also be punished for discrediting "volunteer formations, organizations or individuals who contribute to the fulfillment of the tasks assigned to the Armed Forces."
The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) labels irregular armed formations fighting in Ukraine — specifically the state-backed mercenary Wagner Group — as volunteers.
Russia's State Duma wrote that criminal punishment would be imposed if a person had already been charged with an administrative violation for similar actions within one year.
The Institute for the Study of War said on March 1 that "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."