The resident, from the south-eastern city of Khabarovsk, was accused of high treason and arrested by Moscow’s Federal Security Service (FSB) after supposedly offering to send information to Ukraine “that could be used to the detriment of the security of the Russian Federation”. It comes as Putin continues to insist his invasion is a “special military operation”. State news outlet TASS reported the individual reached out to Ukrainians offering to pass national secrets to the country.
The FSB said: “A Khabarovsk resident anonymously applied via the Internet to the Ukrainian special service with a proposal to transfer information for a monetary reward.”
It added the resident was “pursuing mercenary intent” through actions that could harm and even “sabotage” the Kremlin while it worked on its mission to “to demilitarize and de-Nazify” the country.
Since the start of the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Russia has seen an exodus of political activists, journalists and others who, critical of the war, feared the consequences they would face if they spoke out.
On March 17, the Kremlin said society would benefit from the absence of anti-war Russians “mentally” aligned with “the collective West”.
Referring to a “cleansing” of “scum and traitors”, President Putin reinforced an already-well known approach to those who oppose his regime’s ideas.
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He said: “The Russian people will always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors and simply spit them out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths.
“I am convinced that such a natural and necessary cleansing of society will only strengthen our country, our solidarity, cohesion and readiness to respond to any challenges.”
His remarks followed the enactment of two new laws criminalizing independent war reporting and protesting the war – with penalties of up to 15 years.
Fast-tracked through parliament on March 4, the laws make it illegal to spread “fake news” about the Russian military, to call for an end of its forces’ deployment and to express support for sanctions issued by the West against Russian targets.
Putin’s strict censorship efforts arouse dreadful memories of the mass arrests of the Stalin era, when repressions were justified for “cleansing” Soviet society of traitors.
According to independent monitoring group OVD-Info, more than 10 thousand people have been arrested in Russia for protesting against Moscow’s attacks on Ukraine.
As of March 14, the figure stood at nearly 15,000 detentions – including children and elderly people.
One single day, March 13, saw 817 people get arrested during demonstrations in 37 cities in Russia.
There are also reports of employees losing their jobs or being kicked out of universities for expressing criticism of Putin’s actions.
Meanwhile, more than two dozen Russian media outlets have been blocked by the country’s media regulator or have chosen to cease operations.
Facebook and Instagram are banned, too.
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On Thursday, March 24, the US for the first time officially accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine and, after analysing public and intelligence sources that helped it reach the conclusion, vowed it would pursue accountability.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “Today, I can announce that, based on information currently available, the US government assesses that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine.
“As with any alleged crime, a court of law with jurisdiction over the crime is ultimately responsible for determining criminal guilt in specific cases.
“We are committed to pursuing accountability using every tool available, including criminal prosecutions.”
His comments came as US President Joe Biden travelled to Brussels to join leaders at a NATO summit and G7 meeting.
The NATO summit was dominated by concern about a possible Russian chemical or biological attack.
All 30 leaders of the military alliance warned Moscow against using such weapons, saying in a final statement it “would be unacceptable and result in severe consequences”.
Mr Biden said: “We would respond. We would respond if he uses it.
“The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use.”