(AFP) – Russia on Saturday increased penalties for voluntary surrender and refusal to fight with up to 10 years in prison and replaced its top logistics general after a series of setbacks for its seven-month war in Ukraine.
The tough new amendments and personnel change come days after Russia instigated partial mobilization with Kyiv taking back more and more territory in a counter-offensive.
It also comes as Kremlin-held regions of eastern and southern Ukraine voted for a second day to become part of Russia, dramatically on the spot.
The integration of the four regions into Russia will mean that Moscow will consider any military move there as an attack on its own territory.
Russia’s invasion, which was launched on February 24, and Ukraine’s recent gains have left some analysts who saw logistics as the weak link in Moscow’s army.
Army General Dmitry Bulgakov has been relieved of the post of Deputy Minister of Defense and will be replaced by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, aged 60, the Defense Ministry said.
Russia’s partial mobilization, announced on Wednesday, is likely to be one of its first major logistical challenges, with the hundreds of thousands of reservists being called up who need to be equipped and trained for deployment.
Military-aged people sought to leave, with flights filling up and neighboring countries receiving an influx of Russians, including Georgia where 2,300 private vehicles were waiting to enter at one crossing, regional Russian authorities said.
Now that President Vladimir Putin has signed the legislation, servicemen who desert, surrender “without permission”, refuse to fight or disobey orders can receive up to 10 years in prison.
Robbery will be punishable by 15 years in prison.
A separate law, also signed on Saturday, facilitates Russian citizenship for foreigners who join the Russian army as the Kremlin seeks to bolster its ranks.
Moscow launches strikes as occupied regions hold referendums on joining Russia https://t.co/XI5QJ7TkTx
— Breitbart London (@Breitbart London) September 24, 2022
On Friday, US President Joe Biden dismissed as a “nonsense” the vote on whether Russia should annex four regions of Ukraine, which ends next Tuesday.
Even Beijing, Moscow’s closest ally since the war began, called for the respect of “sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
The vote is being held in the Russian-controlled regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizhia in the south.
For four days, authorities went door-to-door to collect votes. Polling stations then open on Tuesday for residents to cast ballots on the final day. Results are expected late Tuesday or Wednesday.
“Finally, things are moving towards the restoration of the Soviet Union. The referendum is one step towards that,” Leonid, a 59-year-old military official, told AFP.
The snap referendums were announced just this week after the Ukrainian counter-offensive captured most of the northeastern Kharkiv region – bringing hundreds of settlements back under Kyiv’s control after months of Russian occupation.
Irpin, close to the capital, has been recaptured after weeks of fighting and residents have rallied to begin rebuilding before winter sets in.
Over 100 apartment blocks in Irpin – called a “hero city” by President Volodymyr Zelensky for holding back Russian invaders – were badly damaged by shelling.
Putin accuses West of ‘nuclear blackmail’, announces conscription to boost Russian army https://t.co/JFTnrvOSCK
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The head of the residents’ association of his building, Mykhailo Kirilenko, proudly looked at the new roof, which is taking shape.
“People don’t have much money, but they have agreed” to donate money to gradually restore the shattered homes, he told AFP.
Putin warned this week that Moscow would use “all means” to protect its territory – which former Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev said on social media could include the use of “strategic nuclear weapons”.
Zelensky condemned the polls, calling them “crimes against international law and the law of Ukraine” on Friday.
G7 nations have declared that the polls will “never” be recognized and have “no legal effect or legitimacy”.
UN investigators on Friday accused Russia of committing war crimes on a “massive scale” in Ukraine – listing bombings, executions, torture and horrific sexual violence.
In the eastern Kharkiv region, Ukrainian officials said they removed 447 bodies from a site near the city of Izium that was recaptured by Russian forces.
“Most of them have signs of violent death, and 30 have signs of torture,” said Kharkiv regional governor Oleg Sinegubov.
“There are bodies with ropes around their necks, with their hands tied, with broken limbs and gunshot wounds.”
The Kremlin accused Kyiv of fabricating evidence of the alleged war crimes.
Blackouts across much of Ukraine as Russian missiles blast power plants, waterworks https://t.co/hDbkCoyJoj
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