Law proposed by the Duma to ban criticism of Russian “volunteer units” in Ukraine

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

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 to quell criticism of the so-called “special military operation in Ukraine.”

Mercenary groups, volunteer corps and other organizations “assisting” the Russian military would be protected from criticism under the proposed amendment, as the current law only applies to regular military personnel.

The bill followed a direct request from Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner mercenary group, who stated that “there are individual media outlets, bloggers and Telegram channels openly discrediting volunteers” and urged officials to consider amending the current law to discourage this discourse.

In November, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law equating the status of volunteers with contract servicemen.