President Vladimir Putin says all Russian military deaths will be state secrets

The decree comes after a report by opponents to Moscow claimed over 200 soldiers have died in the Ukrainian conflict

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The Independent Online

Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared that all military deaths will be classified as a state secret, both during peacetime and in war.

Previously, the deaths of members of the armed forces were only classified during wartime. 

The announcement, which is an amendment to a decree extending the list of state secrets, has further provoked suspicion that Moscow is using troops to fight alongside pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine - a charge the nation has repeatedly denied.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied the decision is connected to the bloody conflict in Ukraine, where over 6,100 people had been killed, and said: “The improvement of the state secret law is under way.”

But as tensions between the Russia and the West show no sign of thawing, US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke labelled the law as a blow to free press and transparency.

 

"We see this as a misplaced effort to cover up what everyone knows, and that is that Russian active duty military personnel are fighting and dying in eastern Ukraine and that the Russian government is denying it," he said.

Meanwhile, rights advocate Valentina Melnikova, secretary of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees, told The Guardian that the decree simply rubber-stamped the long-held practice of withholding information on military losses.

"I don’t know what [the new decree] is connected with, but the bolsheviks and Russian authorities never revealed any casualty numbers, except after South Ossetia," she said, referring to the Russo-Georgian war in 2008.

"It was always considered a state secret. Now Putin has just made this official."

However, Ilya Yashin, a close aide to opposition politician Boris Nemtsov who was gunned down outside the Kremlin in February, regarded the decree in a more sinister light.

Earlier this month, Russian opposition activists released a report which they said revealed at least 220 serving Russian soldiers have so far been killed in fighting in two hot spots in east Ukraine, last summer and earlier this year.

Yashin, who helped finish the document started by Nemtsov, told Reuters: "This shows that the war with Ukraine - undeclared but ongoing - is a major sore spot for Putin."

"This[...]should be seen as a threat to activists, politicians and journalists who deal with this."

Additional reporting by Reuters

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