Russian soldiers who refuse to fight in Ukraine will face 10-year prison sentences under a new law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday.
Putin launched the Ukraine “special military operation” on February 24, with Kremlin leaders hoping for a quick victory. However, Russian troops were met with a stronger-than-expected response from its Eastern European neighbor. Putin’s military has faced a plethora of issues, including trouble recruiting motivated soldiers—allowing Ukraine in recent weeks to launch counteroffensives to take back occupied territory.
Putin announced Wednesday that Russia would undergo a partial mobilization in which reserves will be called upon to fight in Ukraine as losses of troops and equipment continue to pile up. The announcement is seen as an escalation of the conflict, but has been met with protests in more than 38 cities in Russia—a rare indication of growing frustration with the war among the country’s citizens. The mobilization could lead to 300,000 reservists being called to serve.
Despite some discontent with the partial mobilization, refusing to fight in the war is now punishable with up to 10 years of prison time, according to The Moscow Times, an English-language Russian newspaper.
The law makes desertion from military posts during the mobilization punishable by up to 10 years in jail, according to the newspaper.Conscientious objectors will face a three-year sentence.
Meanwhile, any soldiers who voluntarily surrender will face a 15-year prison sentence, according to the Times. Exceptions may be made for first-time offenders who “took measures for his release, returned to his unit or place of service and did not commit other crimes while in captivity.”
Looting can also result in a 15-year- prison sentence, the newspaper alsoreported.
The bill passed the Duma, Russia’s parliament, last week ahead of Putin’s mobilization announcement and received support from all major parties, according to the Times.
Russian Mobilization Sees Early Resistance
Despite the new Russian law that could send reservists who refuse to fight to prison, the Russian leader’s mobilization announcement was met with resistance. Opposition is not commonly seen in Russia, as the Kremlin cracked down on dissent following the announcement of the war.
The protests that broke out resulted in the arrest of at least 1,386 people. Meanwhile, an online petition opposing the mobilization received more than 327,000 signatures.
“In the current situation of uncertainty, we are not ready to expose the men of our country—brothers, sons, husbands, fathers and grandfathers—to moral, or physical danger,” the petition reads.
Military Experts Doubt Mobilization Will Help Russia
Military experts have also raised doubts that Putin’s mobilization will result in a substantial boost for the country, which for months has struggled to retain qualified troops.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said Saturday the mobilization is already failing to produce more soldiers and “will likely fail to produce mobilized reserve forces even of the low quality that Putin’s plans would have generated unless the Kremlin can rapidly fix fundamental and systemic problems.”
Videos have emerged appearing to show reservist troops exhibiting disorderly behavior. One video showed a group of soldiers intoxicated and asleep on a stop on the way to the front line. Meanwhile, another video showed troops refusing to form ranks when instructed to do so.
Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder said that adding 300,000 troops to an already-struggling invasion may not give Moscow the boost it needs to turn the tide of the war.
“If you are already having significant challenges and haven’t addressed some of those systemic strategic issues that make any large military force capable, there’s nothing to indicate that it’s going to get any easier by adding more variables to the equation,” Ryder said.
The mobilization comes after Ukraine reclaimed more than 3,000 square miles through counteroffensives in Kherson, a key southern city that serves as a gateway to Russian-annexed Crimea, and areas near Kharkiv, a major city in Eastern Ukraine.
Newsweek reached out to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.
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