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Harder, crueler, longer Lawmakers draft new penalties for assisting Russia’s ‘enemies’ on and off the battlefield

Source: Meduza

Lawmakers from Russia’s ruling political party, United Russia, have submitted draft legislation to the State Duma that would create two new felony statutes and add stricter penalties to another five criminal offenses already on the books. Clearly but unofficially connected to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the legislative initiative concerns cooperation with foreign organizations and participation in armed hostilities. Here’s how things will change once the law is adopted.

It will become a felony for Russian citizens to participate in armed conflicts “for purposes contrary to the interests of the Russian Federation”

The legislation renames and supplements Article 208 of Russia’s Criminal Code, which establishes felony liability for organizing an unlawful armed group or participating in such a group. Participating in any actions on foreign soil as part of a legally recognized armed group with the use of weapons or military equipment “for purposes contrary to the interests of the Russian Federation” becomes punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Offenders who fight in unlawful armed formations (like partisan units), however, are subject to the second section of Article 208, for which the maximum penalty is only 15 years in prison.

Additionally, offenders in legal armed groups who lay down their arms and voluntarily “cease participation” are not absolved from criminal liability, though the legislation does extend this exemption to members of unlawful armed groups who surrender.

A new section of Article 208 concerns only cases where Russia has a national interest in the outcome of a conflict but isn’t itself involved directly. In theory, this wouldn’t apply to Russian citizens who fight against the Russian military in Ukraine’s Armed Forces; to prosecute these individuals, lawmakers drafted a new rule against “defecting to the enemy.”

“Defecting to the enemy” will become high treason

An amendment to Article 275 of Russia’s Criminal Code makes it high treason to “defect to the enemy during an armed conflict, military action, or other actions involving weapons or military equipment.” This offense will be punishable by up to 20 years in prison. This statute applies only where Russia is directly involved in the relevant armed conflict.

The Russian authorities will apparently enforce this law against all Russian citizens, not only against soldiers who violate their oath of enlistment. (If lawmakers had intended a narrower application, they would have amended Section 11 of the nation’s Criminal Code on offenses against military service.)

Human rights attorney Ivan Pavlov has warned, however, that Russia’s military is nevertheless likely to use this new statute to intimidate soldiers against surrendering in Ukraine.

During the Second World War, the Soviet authorities classified defection as a counterrevolutionary crime punishable by both execution and the confiscation of all property. To prove that a serviceman had defected instead of merely deserting, military police searched suspects for German leaflets that served as passes for Soviet soldiers trying to surrender.

Any “secret” contact with foreign organizations that isn’t disclosed to the Russian authorities will become a felony

The new legislation introduces Article 275¹ to Russia’s Criminal Code (awkwardly named to fit the new statute between articles 275 and 276 without forcing new numerals for all the statutes down the list). The new statute criminalizes any “secret” contact not just with foreign intelligence agencies but with any foreign or international organization at all that acts in the interests of a foreign intelligence agency, as determined by the Russian authorities. Offenders face up to eight years in prison.

If a Russian citizen manages to convey to a foreign organization information that constitutes a state secret or succeeds in aiding one of these groups, it qualifies as treason, which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

It remains unclear how the authorities intend to determine the “secrecy” of contact between Russian citizens and foreign organizations. To avoid criminal liability, individuals can alert Russia’s intelligence community about any such contact “voluntarily and in a timely manner.”

Foreigners who collect information about Russian soldiers during a war will be considered spies

The legislation will either refine or expand Russia’s existing definition of espionage, amending Article 276 of the Criminal Code to apply to “the transfer, collection, theft, or storage for the purposes of transfer to the enemy” any information that could be used against the Russian Armed Forces. According to the law, the collection of this information must occur during an armed conflict in which Russia is a combatant.

Something that’s important to remember here: This statute applies only to foreigners and stateless persons.

The vaguest amendment drafted by lawmakers: the criminalization of “publicly inciting actions against the security of the state”

Under the new Article 280⁴, Russian law would impose the following penalties for such incitements:

  • Up to four years in prison without any aggravating circumstances
  • Up to six years in prison when the offense is committed in a premeditated group conspiracy, using one’s official position, or by disseminating the incitements online or in the mass media
  • Up to seven years in prison if the offense included any threat of violence

Lawmakers explain that this new statute will apply where the incitements in question don’t qualify as the following preexisting crimes:

  • Public incitements to terrorist acts, public justifications of terrorism, or terrorist propaganda (Article 205²)
  • Public incitements to extremist acts (Article 280)
  • Public incitements to carry out acts intended to violate Russia’s territorial integrity (Article 280¹)
  • Public actions intended to discredit the use of Russia’s Armed Forces deployed to defend the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens and to support international peace and security, or to discredit Russia’s state agencies for exercising their designated authority (Article 280³)
  • Incitements to impose restrictive measures (sanctions) against the Russian Federation, Russian citizens, or Russian legal entities (Article 284²)
  • Public incitements to wage a war of aggression (Article 354)

For some reason, lawmakers also included Article 205 (which designates terrorist crimes) in their list of “other incitements,” but it’s unclear how an incitement alone can be considered an act of terrorism.

Criminal liability for cooperation with “undesirable” organizations not just in Russia but abroad, as well

Back in July 2021, lawmakers completely banned Russian citizens from cooperating with “undesirable” organizations, but corresponding changes were never made to the nation’s Criminal Code, for some reason. The Russian authorities have designated a wide variety of international and foreign organizations as “undesirable,” including the owners of news media outlets. Russian journalists continue to work from abroad at these banned publications.

The new legislation amends Article 284¹ of Russia’s Criminal Code by removing the words: “on the territory of the Russian Federation.” As a result, Russian citizens who participate in the activities of an “undesirable” organization (even while not in Russia) will face penalties as high as four years in prison. Meanwhile, financing such activities risks up to five years in prison, and organizing these activities is punishable by as many as six years in prison.

Russia’s current list of “undesirable” organizations includes the investigative news outlets Proekt and iStories, as well as the Khodorkovsky Foundation.

Significantly higher penalties for mercenary work

Recruiting, training, financing, or arming and “using” a mercenary in an armed conflict or military action (curiously, lawmakers did not restrict this offense to mercenaries operating “against Russian interests”) will be punishable by between 12 and 18 years in prison (currently, the penalty is between four and eight years in prison).

The same actions committed under aggravated circumstances (the use of official position or involvement of minors) are punishable by between 12 and 20 years in prison, instead of the current seven to 15 years. The mercenary himself will face between seven and 15 years in prison (instead of the current penalty of between three and five years in prison).

Text by Denis Dmitriev

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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