Russia's lower house of parliament on Thursday gave its initial backing to a law that would bring in longer prison sentences for anyone deemed to have discredited the Russian army and extend the legislation to cover the Wagner mercenary force.
The chamber confirmed the law had passed what it calls its "second reading" on its official Telegram channel.
Moscow introduced sweeping censorship laws shortly after ordering tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine a year ago.
"Discrediting" the army can currently be punished by up to five years in prison, while spreading knowingly false information about it can attract a 15-year jail sentence.
Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, said a day earlier the changes would toughen existing laws with offenders risking a maximum punishment of 15 years in jail.
A draft text of the law seen by Reuters on Thursday showed a range of serious but shorter jail terms.
It said that the sentence for anyone found guilty of distributing fake information or discrediting the army would be increased from three to five years.
If such actions caused death, harm to health, or interfered with critical infrastructure, the punishment would be increased from five to seven years.
The 15-year-jail term punishment for knowingly spreading such information remains in place.
If the bill is approved in its final parliamentary review on Mar 14, the law will be extended to offer protection for the first time to the Wagner mercenary force, which is fighting in Ukraine, and to other voluntary military organisations.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner's founder, asked parliament in January to ban negative media reports about his men by amending the criminal code, an idea Volodin quickly said he backed.
Russian prosecutors have already opened more than 5,800 cases against people for discrediting the armed forces, the OVD-Info rights group says, while authorities have also used the laws against spreading false information to hand down lengthy jail sentences to long-time Kremlin critics.