MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday banned the release of information about troop deaths in “special operations” during peacetime, as the Kremlin continues to rebuff accusations its soldiers are fighting in Ukraine.
Putin signed an amendment adding to what Russia classifies as “state secrets” any “information revealing losses of personnel… in peacetime during special operations.”
The addition means that those who disclose details about the deaths of soldiers sent on operations now could be prosecuted.
The decree gives no details of what exactly is meant by a “special operation”. Revealing state secrets, when it does not involve handing them to a foreign state, is a criminal offence that can be punished by up to four years in jail.
Analysts said the legal change was aimed at stamping out any leaks on military losses in Ukraine after activists released a string of evidence pointing to the deaths of Russian government soldiers across the border in the former Soviet state.
“The reason is not to reveal losses in Donbass,” said military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, referring to the war zone in eastern Ukraine, adding that the legal move was designed to “imprison or scare people”.
“I’ve never heard a legal definition of the concept of a special operation,” said Felgenhauer. “That means you could classify anything you like as this.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the amendment is “not linked to Ukraine,” but rather was an improvement of Russian laws concerning state secrets, according to RIA-Novosti news agency.
Peskov added Putin has no intention to authorize special operations in Ukraine.
Troops mass on border
The Kremlin decree came as reports pointed to a massing of Russian equipment close to the Ukraine border.
An AFP photographer in recent days saw Russian military vehicles loaded on a freight train in the southern Rostov region, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the Ukrainian border.
The photographer also saw Russian military vehicles at a training camp some 50 kilometres (31 miles) from the border.