A study of the list of decrees published on Russia’s official website by the investigative media site Mediazona has revealed that 49.5 percent of the 997 decrees signed by Putin over the last year were classified as “secret.”

This is the highest number of undisclosed documents since the record for secret decrees was set at 47 percent in 2001 at the height of the Second Chechen War.

Presidential decrees in Russia are numbered sequentially at the start of each year, with the numbers for classified documents being omitted. Mediazona said it calculated the percentage of such decrees in 2023 by simply counting the number of missing documents from publicly available records.

The media outlet also noted that the number of decrees issued last year remained virtually unchanged since 2022, a total of 997, against 996 in the previous year.

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In 2022, when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, the share of classified presidential decrees reached 45 percent, according to Mediazona.

There are many reasons why a Presidential decree in Russia can be classified, with Mediazone speculating that two factors may be in play – the awarding of military honors for troops killed in action, or for pardoning convicted criminals who have taken place in the so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Further scrutiny of the numbers supports this hypothesis, with changes in the monthly figures reflecting the progress of the war in Ukraine. In the month prior to the full-scale invasion, just over 20 percent of them were classified. In March and April 2022 as Russian forces advanced, number rose to over 50 percent and in July 2023, at the start of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, more than 60 percent of decrees were classified.

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The unclassified presidential decrees published in 2023 also reflected the ongoing war. There has been a significant increase in documents on assigning the honorific “Guards” title to military formations, units and ships. The actual reasons for awarding the title are masked through the use of standard wording such as “for mass heroism and courage, fortitude and courage.”

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