Russia to expand fake news laws amid Ukraine conflict

A bill introducing stricter punishment for disinformation about the nation’s military operations has been passed by the State Duma

Russian laws protecting military service members from slander and “fake news” are to be expanded. Amendments were approved by the State Duma on Tuesday, which are intended to protect the country’s military from information attacks amid the ongoing armed conflict in Ukraine.

Russia already has laws prohibiting knowledgeable publication of false information about its military forces or slander against service members. The two linked bills passed by the lower house of parliament will apply the same rules in respect of volunteer units, organizations and individuals assisting the armed forces.

The changes also increase penalties for such offenses in the most serious cases. Repeat offenders, whose actions cause serious harm, could be imprisoned by a court for up to 15 years under the proposed legislation.

The bills were backed by State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin, who argued that “any person who risks their life while safeguarding the nation and its citizens [must be] protected from provocations and lies.” He said a failure to take care of those defending Russia could be disastrous for the morale of the military.

“It’s the moment of truth. We have to think about soldiers and officers, who are now in the trench lines, about those who arrive there tomorrow, about volunteers who will go there,” the senior lawmaker told fellow legislators.

There are several volunteer forces taking part in the Russian special military operation in Ukraine. The private military company Wagner Group is arguably the best-known of these.

Its head, businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, has campaigned for the inclusion of such fighters in anti-defamation laws that apply to regular Russian troops. He has also urged the State Duma to make it clear that legitimate public criticism of military commanders does not break the law.

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