1678955061 origin 1

Bill to ban criticism of Russian “volunteer groups” in Ukraine approved by Duma

origin 1March 3, 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin, owner of the Wagner Group military company ©AP/PRIGOZHIN PRESS SERVICE

The State Duma, Russia’s lower house, has approved a bill that would punish anyone caught spreading false information or “discrediting” groups of volunteers fighting in Ukraine with a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

The amendment, which has yet to be approved by Russia’s upper house and President Putin, builds on existing Moscow laws passed a year ago that were made to quell criticism of the so-called “special military operation in Ukraine”.

Mercenary groups, volunteer units and other organizations that will “assist” the Russian military would be protected from criticism under this proposed amendment, as the current law only covers regular soldiers.

The bill follows a direct request from the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who said that “there are separate media, bloggers and telegram channels that openly discredit the volunteers” and called on officials of the government to consider changing the current law to discourage this talk.

In November, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law equating the status of volunteers with that of contracted soldiers.