Russia’s Putin comforts mothers of soldiers fighting in Ukraine


As anger over the drawn-out invasion simmers in Russia, President Vladimir Putin on Friday held his first public meeting of the nine-month-long war with mothers of soldiers who had been fighting in Ukraine, a move likely aimed at quelling discontent.

In a clip broadcast by Russian state media, Putin is seen sitting down with a group of women around a table adorned with ornate tea cups and fresh berries for a talk coinciding with Russian Mother’s Day.

“I want you to know that I personally, the entire leadership of the country, we share your pain,” Putin said, pausing and clearing his throat. “We understand that nothing can replace the loss of a son, a child, especially for the mother, to whom we all owe the birth.”

“I want you to know that we share this pain with you and, of course, we will do everything so that you do not feel forgotten,” Putin added.

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The meeting comes as grievances of ordinary Russians, especially those who have been recently mobilized to replenish depleted ranks, are starting to enter the public space, despite the grave legal consequences for those critical of the war.

In recent months, dozens of videos recorded by soldiers or their relatives have emerged online, decrying the recent mobilization and abysmal conditions some soldiers find themselves in on the front line, with low morale, poor equipment and lack of clear strategy on the battlefield.

The soldiers spoke of being abandoned by commanders and forced to wander in the woods without food or reinforcement. Some contract soldiers called up earlier in the campaign as part of regular forces complained they were exhausted and hadn’t been rotated out for months on end.

The mobilization effort, which officially lasted for about a month and a half, saw a reported 318,000 reinforcements thrown into battle as Russia tries to hold ground against a two-pronged Ukrainian counteroffensive ahead of the cold winter that will further complicate combat.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon’s top general, Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, said that over 100,000 Russian troops were believed to have been killed or injured since the Feb. 24 invasion. Tens of thousands of men have left the country to avoid being drafted. The Russian Defense Ministry officially claimed it lost around 6,000 soldiers as of September this year and hasn’t updated the numbers since.

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Even before the Friday meeting, Russian activists cast doubt on whether the Kremlin would allow a frank conversation with exasperated mothers and wives whose loved ones are missing or dead.

Groups like the Council of Mothers and Wives, which has pleaded with officials to end mobilization and bring the men back home, and the veteran advocacy group the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee, which processes thousands of complaints from soldiers and their family members, were not invited. The Kremlin only published parts of the meeting and there was no live broadcast.

“We are not at all interested in this,” Valentina Melnikova, the secretary of the Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia, said when asked if her group would’ve sent a representative if the Kremlin had extended the invitation.

“It’s crazy that the conversation is still not public, even with the mothers who were cleared to see Putin,” the Council of Mothers and Wives said in the group’s Telegram blog. “Are they scared that some mothers will still blurt something out?”

The makeup of attendees indeed suggested the meeting was orchestrated to avoid any outbursts of public anger in Putin’s presence, as women in the room were primarily functionaries from pro-government movements, mid-level officials, and members of the ruling United Russia party set up by Putin himself.

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