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By Andrew Osborn
LONDON (Reuters) – The founder of the Russian mercenary group Wagner fighting in Ukraine has asked parliament to ban negative media reporting on his men by amending the criminal code to make “discrediting” his fighters punishable up to five years in prison.
Yevgeny Prigozhin made the request in a letter sent to Vycheslav Volodin, the warmongering speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament. Prigozhin’s press service published the letter on Tuesday.
Volodin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, is already advocating changing the criminal code to allow authorities to confiscate property and assets of Russians living abroad who publicly insult Russia and its armed forces.
Mercenary boss Prigozhin, who has achieved great public notoriety since the start of the war in Ukraine in an apparent effort to curry favor with Putin and improve his own prospects, has drawn attention to the major role his fighters play played in the capture of certain towns and villages. and frequently criticized senior Russian military officers.
In his letter, he accuses “certain media, bloggers and Telegram channels” of discrediting some of his men, including convicts he recruited from the ranks of Wagner, by presenting them as “bad guys and criminals”.
This was a reference to the fact that the sometimes grisly and murderous past of certain convicts recruited by Wagner was made public. The men accepted his offer to fight in the Ukraine for six months as they were promised a pardon if they survived, even though they had initially been imprisoned for life.
Prigozhin asked parliament to criminalize any actions or publications discrediting these people and to prohibit public disclosure of their criminal past.
“In essence, the people who are in the most dangerous parts of the front line and who risk their lives every day and die for the fatherland are portrayed as second-class people, depriving them of the right to atone for their guilt. in front of society and consciously downplaying their achievements,” Prigozhin wrote in the letter.
There was no immediate reaction to his request from Volodin.
Earlier on Tuesday, Sergei Mironov, parliamentary leader of the pro-Kremlin Just Russia party, criticized two Russian regions for refusing to bury Wagnerian fighters killed in Ukraine with military honours.
“These are inadmissible decisions because you cannot judge what a person has done in the past,” Mironov said.
“Especially if the person died with a gun in their hands defending our country!”
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Gareth Jones)