Russian dictator Vladimir Putin signed amendments to the Russian Criminal Code, introducing harsher punishments for "discrediting participants" of Moscow's all-out war against Ukraine, the Russian state-controlled RIA Novosti news site reported on March 18.
The new punishments include a fine of up to 5 million rubles (about $66,450) and a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
Also, Russians could be punished for discrediting not only the Russian army but also "volunteer formations, organizations or individuals who contribute to the fulfillment of the tasks assigned to the Armed Forces." The Russian Ministry of Defense labels irregular armed formations fighting in Ukraine - specifically the state-backed mercenary Wagner Group - as volunteers.
The amendments were approved by Russia's State Duma, the lower house of parliament, earlier on March 14.
Russia's State Duma wrote that criminal punishment would be imposed if a person had already been charged with an administrative violation for similar actions within one year.
The Institute for the Study of War said on March 1 that "the Kremlin could use these amendments to promote self-censorship among select military bloggers whose constituencies are no longer needed for its force generation or crowdfunding campaigns, or whose criticisms have exceeded the Kremlin's tolerance for open criticism."