News Brief

Russian Soldiers Now Forbidden Phones

For years social media posts by Russian soldiers have inadvertently provided digital footprints of Russia’s military presence from places where the government denies having troops on the ground.

Now, the military is putting a lid on such leaks.

A new law passed this week will kick active duty soldiers off the Internet for a five-year “period of silence,” and also make it a criminal offense for servicemen to post online about their assignments, speak to journalists about their deployments, or disclose unit they serve in.

It’s not unusual for military forces to enact policies regulating the way servicemen use the Internet, but the Russian legislation is unique in its scope and the attention it’s gathered in the media.

Numerous open source investigations which used Instagram, Facebook or other social media posts made by soldiers have proven that the Russian government was lying to the public about its military presence in places like eastern Ukraine and Syria. It was these investigations, especially into Russian military action in Syria, which prompted legislators to address the leaks, according to an explanatory note in the bill.

Some of the most prominent investigations based on posts made by Russian servicemen revealed that active Russian troops were serving alongside pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and that a Russian military unit provided the Buk missile which shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 passenger and crew. The Russian government denied the conclusions of these investigations.

But it’s not only journalists who may now find it harder to speak with soldiers as part of their work. The new bill also reduces the public’s access to information about military training exercises and problems with the hazing of new recruits.