Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared that from now on, any and all information about the deaths of Russian military personnel will be considered a state secret — not only in times of war but in times of peace as well.
Though Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that the move has nothing to do with the conflict in Ukraine, many activists are viewing it as yet another attempt by Putin to hide Russia’s involvement in the conflict.
Valentina Melnikova is a Russian rights advocate who serves as the secretary of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees. She says that the new decree simply gives legal backing to a practice that has been common in Russia for years. From The Guardian:
“I don’t know what [the new decree] is connected with, but the bolsheviks and Russian authorities never revealed any casualty numbers, except after South Ossetia,” [Melnikova] said, referring to the 2008 conflict during which Russian troops established control of the Georgian breakaway region. “It was always considered a state secret. Now Putin has just made this official.”
Even before Putin’s decree, the list of state secrets already included any information about military personnel losses during wartime.
Under the new changes, however, disclosing information about casualties during peacetime will also be forbidden. Revealing state secrets carries a punishment of up to seven years in a Russian prison.
The new decree comes a week after two soldiers captured fighting alongside pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine admitted to being active-duty Russian troops (the Russian Defense Ministry has denied their claims).
Coverage of military casualties is virtually non-existent on Russia’s state-owned media outlets, which echo the government’s claims that any Russians fighting in Ukraine are doing so as volunteers.
But according to Open Russia — an organization founded by outspoken Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky — at least 276 Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine since the conflict began last year.
Read the full story from The Guardian.