Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, on Tuesday approved a bill that toughens punishment for Russian military personnel during times of “mobilization,” signaling Moscow could be preparing to escalate in Ukraine.
So far, the Russian government of President Vladimir Putin has rejected calls to mobilize for war, which would involve a nationwide military draft. Putin has framed his war in Ukraine as a “special military operation,” but has been under pressure to escalate since Ukraine recaptured territory in its Kharkiv offensive.
The bill passed by the State Duma increases punishments for Russian soldiers “during the period of mobilization or martial law, in wartime or in the context of an armed conflict or combat operations.”
The bill introduces the terms “mobilization, martial law, and wartime” to the Russian Criminal Code. The increased punishments cover several scenarios, including desertion. If a Russian soldier abandons their unit for more than one month, they could face up to ten years in prison, up from five years under the current law.
Under US law, desertion is a military crime, and troops could face up to five years in prison for the offense. During times of war, US soldiers could potentially face the death penalty for desertion, but that hasn’t been enforced since World War II.
The harshest punishment under the Russian State Duma’s bill would be for looting in wartime, which could result in up to 15 years in prison.
In another sign that Russia is preparing to escalate in Ukraine, Russian-backed authorities in the Donbas, Kherson, and Zaporizhia announced Tuesday that they will hold referendums on joining Russia from September 23 to September 27.