Russia’s parliament has introduced stricter punishment for desertion and refusal to fight during martial law in a sign that the Kremlin may be considering declaring a general mobilisation.
Russia’s State Duma on Tuesday rushed through a bill that introduced extra penalties for crimes such as desertion committed in a time of martial law and mobilisation. It also singled out looting and “voluntary surrender” as separate crimes punishable with 15 and 10 years in prison, respectively.
The bill breezed through parliament and is likely to be signed into law by Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in the clearest-yet sign that the Kremlin may be laying the groundwork for a general mobilisation, something it has been anxious to avoid through the seven months of its brutal invasion of Ukraine.
An unnamed US defence official was quoted as saying on Monday that Wagner, a Russian private military contractor, has been struggling to recruit 1,500 men from Russian prisons, with many refusing to join, while Russian media outlet iStories earlier this month reported that Wagner may have managed to recruit over 5,000 men from prisons.
Meanwhile, Russia’s puppet governments in occupied eastern and southern Ukraine are urging Russia to annex the territories they control in a last-ditch attempt to save them from the ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensive.
The Kremlin last month had to scrap votes in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson as Russia has been rapidly losing control of swathes of land to Ukrainian forces.
The self-proclaimed leader of Luhansk, which has been under de-facto Russian control since 2014, on Tuesday signed a bill to hold the vote on a possible Russian annexation.
Russia-backed authorities in Donetsk were expected to pass a similar motion later on Tuesday.
A top occupation administration official in Kherson, which was captured by Russia in March, said on Tuesday his administration decided to hold the vote “in the nearest future”.
“I am confident that Russian leadership will accept the results of the referendum, and the Kherson region will join Russia and become a full-fledged member of the state,” Vladimir Saldo said in a video statement.
The Kremlin previously made it clear that annexation is out of the question until they control all of the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson regions.
Tuesday’s appeals show the puppet government’s growing anxiety about their own future should Ukrainian forces move close or succeed in capturing the areas they control.
Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president who recently emerged as a major cheerleader for the war effort, said on Tuesday that Moscow should go ahead with the annexation to present the world with a new reality that no future leader can change in future.
“The geopolitical transformation in the world will be irreversible once the referendums are held and the new territories join Russia,” he said.
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