Proposed law to ban criticising Russian 'volunteer groups' in Ukraine passed by Duma

The State Duma, Russia's lower house, approved a bill which would punish anyone found spreading false information or “discrediting” volunteer groups fighting in Ukraine with up to 15 years in prison.

The amendment, which still needs to be approved by Russia's upper house and President Putin, builds on Moscow's existing laws, passed a year ago, which were made to quell criticism of the so-called "special military operation in Ukraine.

Mercenary groups, volunteer units and other organisations "assisting" the Russian army would be protected from criticism under this proposed amendment, as the current law only covers regular soldiers.

The bill follows a direct request by the leader of the mercenary group, Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who stated that “there are separate media outlets, bloggers and telegram channels that openly discredit volunteers,” and called on government officials to consider amending current law to discourage this discourse.

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