Russia is considering a new law that would hand 20-year prison sentences to battlefield defectors and others who volunteer to fight for foreign armies – the latest sign of President Vladimir Putin’s growing alarm at the state of his invasion of Ukraine.
The new bill introduced by leaders in the State Duma – the lower chamber of Russia’s legislature – would add penalties to the existing criminal code for those who participate “in an armed conflict, hostilities or other actions with the use of weapons and military equipment on the territory of a foreign state for purposes contrary to the interests of the Russian Federation,” according to translation of the proposed text.
The most grievous violators, including those who contribute to raising a militia that would operate outside Russia or indeed against its military, could face as long as 20 years in prison and fines exceeding 2.5 million rubles, or roughly $40,000.
Several Kremlin watchers familiar with inner workings in Moscow tell U.S. News the introduction of the bill reflects growing concern among Russian elites of the rates of defectors on the battlefield in Ukraine, along with reports that hundreds are volunteering to join specialized units in the Ukrainian army composed of disaffected Russian citizens.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, they say leaders in Moscow believe the law will help control the domestic population.
“Russia has seen significant brain drain over the past three months,” Colin Clarke, senior research fellow at the private intelligence firm The Soufan Center says. “The longer the war drags on, the worse it looks for Putin, and thus, the more he will seek to control the population and the information environment within Russia.”
“This could be a sign that the Kremlin is increasingly concerned that the war is becoming ever more unpopular domestically,” Clarke adds.
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