On March 4, President Vladimir Putin signed into law new legislation criminalizing “fake news” with punishment of up to 15 years in prison. And who is to be the judge of what is true and what is “fake?” The Kremlin, of course.
The new law specifically prohibits the intentional spread of information about the military and ongoing operations in Ukraine that contradict reports from official government sources. It also prohibits the use of the words “war,” “invasion,” and “attacks” from being used by the media when reporting on Ukraine.
Putin and the Russian government passed an earlier version of this law in 2019 that penalized similar actions; however the sentences for such crimes were meek, only up to 15 days.
The new law has had a major effect on independent media in Russia. News reporting organizations such as Bloomberg, CNN, BBC, Radio Free Europe and more have either suspended operations in Russia or stopped live broadcasting.
The “fake news” law comes in the wake of Russian military failures in Ukraine. While Putin expected to capture the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in two days, the war is now entering its fourth week, with Russia holding no major Ukrainian cities. Russian authorities are now fighting an information war to keep the truth from their own people.
One of the first subjected to new legislation is Veronika Belotserkovskaya, a Russian food blogger after she posted on Instagram that Russian authorities considered “contained knowingly false information about the use of the Russian armed forces.” Belotserkovskaya currently lives in France. Commenting on the charge, she said “[Putin] wants to frame people like me as traitors, the fifth column.”
With a crackdown on independent journalism in the country, the last few remaining sources of actual information that can be provided to Russian citizens are dwindling. This leaves only media stations willing to peddle the propaganda churning out of the Kremlin, inundating Russian citizens with disinformation and false narratives about the war in Ukraine.