MOSCOW, November 8 (RAPSI/RIA Novosti) – Russian lawmakers with the ruling United Russia party presented a draft bill Friday to make it illegal to promote secessionism and sympathize with separatist movements.
The proposed measure comes in the face of increasing public support for the idea of relinquishing mainly Muslim territories in the restive North Caucasus.
If the bill is passed, agitating for secession will become punishable by a sentence of between three and six years in prison.
People found guilty of producing, owing and distributing separatist publications could face penalties of five to seven years in prison.
Planning, organizing or publicly promoting activities aimed at threatening the integrity of Russia could be punishable by between six and 12 years in prison.
A survey earlier this year by the Levada Center polling organization found that 24 percent of people would be happy to see Chechnya break away from Russia. That marked a 10 percent increase from 2009.
Calm has returned to Chechnya in recent years, but only after years of bitter conflict between local insurgencies and federal military forces.
Outspoken opposition leader Alexei Navalny has also gained support for proposals to grant independence to territories in the North Caucasus, describing them as a drain on the federal budget.
While the proposed law reflects opposition by the Russian ruling elite against internal secessionist movement, the government has given its backing to breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in neighboring Georgia. Moscow also supports the Transdnestr republic, a pocket of Moldova populated mainly by ethnic Russians and Ukrainians.
United Russia holds more than half the seats in the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament.