Russia bans 'false information' about mercenaries

Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 18 signed a law forbidding the spread of "false information" about "volunteer" forces fighting in service of Russia. The law is clearly meant to prevent public criticism of paramilitary groups and private military organizations, such as the Wagner Group, currently operating in Ukraine. The law passed the State Duma, Russia's lower house, with 336 members voting in favor, two voting against, and 112 abstentions.

The law amends Russia's criminal code by making it an offence to knowingly spread "false information" regarding "volunteer formations carrying out tasks assigned [to them] by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation." Offenders may be sentenced to pay a fine of up to 1.5 million rubles, or face a mandatory work term, or imprisonment of up to five years.

Other changes in the new legislation include a prohibition on "public action" against the use of "volunteer" organizations by the Russian armed forces, or any "public action" aimed at "discrediting" these forces. These bans include interfering with public transport, damaging property, or participating in "mass violations of public order." 

The previous version of the criminal code already included prohibitions on the spread of "false information" regarding the Russian armed forces. The amendment's language is an implicit acknowledgement by Moscow that the "private" forces fighting in Ukraine are acting under the direct orders of the Russian military. The Russian government has previously denied its ties to and control over the Wagner Group, and rejected responsibility for the group's actions.

From Jurist, March 20. Used with permission.

See our last reports on the Wagner Group and the crackdown on dissent in Russia.

Anti-war activist arrested in killing of Russia war blogger

Russian authorities have detained 26-year-old anti-war activist Daria Trepova, claiming she was involved in the blast that killed well-known military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky in St. Petersburg on April 2.

Tatarsky was killed in an explosion at a cafe called Streetbar where he was giving a presentation to his followers. Another 15 were injured in the blast. Streetbar is said to be owned by Wagner Group founder (and food service tycoon) Evgeny Prigozhin, who has opened it to a "patriotic" discussion group called Cyberfront Z.

A native of Ukraine's Donetsk region, Trepova (real name Maxim Fomin) had won a wide following as a "war correspondent" embedded with the Vostok battalion of the local separatist forces.

The Investigative Committee of Russia states that "the planning and organization" of the killing was "carried out from the territory of Ukraine," saying it will be classified as a terrorist act.

Lawmaker Andrei Isaev of the ruling United Russia party called for "stringent measures" against the anti-war opposition in Russia. "This is treason. All these people related to such organizations, should be prosecuted a traitors. This is a matter of honor to detain the heads of these organizations no matter where they are." (CNN, Al Jazeera, Meduza)