Russian lawmakers have passed a bill that will criminalize desertion and other acts ‘during a period of martial law, armed conflict or mobilization’, a move that has raised fears Moscow could soon declare outright war against Ukraine.

So far, Russia has called its seven-month invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” rather than a war. He carried out his assault using indentured soldiers and mercenaries, without officially deploying the conscript army or mobilizing the population at large for war.

The bill, which passed its third reading in the lower house of the Duma on Tuesday, introduces changes to the criminal code that allow authorities to punish acts such as desertion if they are committed during an ambiguous period of “time of war” or “mobilization”, rather than following a clear declaration of war.

Avoiding conscription and desertion for such a period will now result in a prison sentence of five to ten years. Similar penalties are introduced for disobeying a commander’s orders, marauding and intentionally destroying military equipment.

Some Russian politicians have said that these changes to the penal code do not amount to mobilization itself.

“The mobilization has not been announced,” said the national news agency Interfax, quoting one of the authors of the bill.

However, other politicians said the concept of a “mobilization period” had now been introduced into the legal system and could be seen as a signal that a full-fledged declaration of war and mass mobilization might be looming. the horizon.

“The Duma has just considered and adopted in their final form several changes to the criminal code, at breakneck speed,” wrote top lawyer Ivan Pavlov, who previously defended opposition leader Alexei Navalny. .

“Most likely there will be a big announcement soon. . .[and]we can call war a war,” he continued.