Russia tightens sanctions on soldiers who refuse to fight

Russia’s lower house of parliament has passed a new bill to severely punish deserters or disobey orders in combat or general mobilization.

The bill passed today by the Duma of the Russian Parliament (lower house of parliament) introduces additional punishments for servicemen during martial law or general mobilization. The bill states that voluntary surrender would be an offense and could carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

Robbery causing damage to military property is also considered a crime with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

Russian soldiers patrol in downtown Mariupol on April 12.  Photo: AFP.

Russian soldiers patrol in downtown Mariupol on April 12. Image: AFP.

The bill needs to be presented to President Vladimir Putin to be signed into law. It comes amid much debate in Russia over the possibility of full mobilization for the military operation in Ukraine, a step that could significantly escalate the conflict.

Some Russian politicians and nationalists have called on the government to mobilize all its forces. Observers say the new bill could lay the groundwork for this move, which Moscow has so far denied.

Separatists and pro-Russian authorities in four regions of eastern and southern Ukraine announced today that they will hold a referendum on Russia’s annexation. Earlier, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev said that if the regions of Ukraine were annexed by Russia, the country would have more reason to use military force to protect these regions.

Kiev recently launched a counter-offensive and re-taken control of several cities in Kharkov in the northeast. Ukraine’s president said that the country has regained 6,000 square kilometers of territory since the beginning of the month.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on September 16 that the battlefield situation had remained essentially unchanged and that the Russian military did not want to act hastily. He said Russia’s advance was slow, but systematic, and gradually took control of more territory.

Ukraine's counterattack.  Graphics: WP.

Ukraine’s counterattack. Graphics: WP.

Thanh Tam (Theo Reuters)

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