– The deaths or wounds of Russian soldiers in “special operations” can be classified as military secrets, even in peacetime, President Vladimir Putin decreed Thursday. The decree comes as Russia faces accusations that it is sending its soldiers clandestinely to fight in Ukraine, an allegation the Kremlin denies.

Putin’s decree amended a law that previously let the military keep soldiers’ deaths or injuries secret only in times of war. Putin has insisted that Russian soldiers are not taking part in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, said the amendment was “not tied to Ukraine,” but was merely a routine “improvement.”

Russia’s political opposition says that by refusing to acknowledge that its soldiers are in combat in Ukraine, the Russian military is unjustly denying them disability payments, and denying their relatives death benefits.

All the while, there are indications of a rising casualty toll for Russian soldiers.

New York Times