This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Almost one-half of the presidential decrees signed by Russian leader Vladimir Putin last year were done in secret, a local media outlet said, more than any other year on record.
Mediazona said in a report on January 2 that according to its research based on data from Russia’s official publications website, 49.5 percent of the 997 decrees Putin signed were done in secret. The previous highest rate was by Putin in 2001, during the Second Chechen War, when 47 percent of all decrees were secret. The number of decrees signed in 2022, the first year of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, was 996, 45 percent of which were signed in secret.
The independent news outlet said that secret decrees are often used to reward the military and pardon convicts who were promised to be freed from prison if they served a six-month term with the military in the war against Ukraine.
In 2022 and 2023, data showed at least 17 people who committed murders were pardoned – all of them fought against Ukraine and then returned to Russia where they were granted their freedom.
On June 13, Putin confirmed he signed a decree absolving convicts of their crimes, saying, “the state must do everything to fulfill its obligations” to those who agreed to serve at the front.
Mediazona said it calculated the figures by looking at the registration numbers of the presidential decrees. Since they are done sequentially, the news outlet said that by totaling up the missing registration numbers, one could ascertain how many secret decrees were signed but never published.
The Kremlin has not commented on the report.
The return of convicts from the war — dead or alive — is causing controversy across Russia as the government recognizes them as heroes while victims and families suffering as a result of their preinvasion crimes stew in anger.
There have been several cases of Russian families expressing outrage that the convicted killer of a loved one has been released and amnestied because they completed a tour of duty in Ukraine, and some neighborhoods live in fear of violent returnees. Some families are also irate over the state honors bestowed upon former inmates who don’t survive their stint in the war.