Russian soldiers’ mothers challenge Putin

Russian soldiers’ mothers challenge Putin


Their videos are flooding Russian social media as mothers and wives of soldiers mobilized to fight in Ukraine urge the military to deliver on President Vladimir Putin’s promises.

Anger and concern have simmered in Russia since September, when the Kremlin announced that hundreds of thousands of well-trained and well-equipped men would be drafted and sent to the battlefield to support Moscow’s struggling campaign in Ukraine.

But chaos ensued, with widespread reports of freed men – elderly or infirm – being sent to the front lines, or conscripts dying after receiving almost no training, forcing the Kremlin to admit “mistakes”.

In a sign that Putin is taking the growing malaise seriously, he is expected to meet a group of military mothers and wives on Friday for the first time since he ordered Russian forces into Ukraine nine months ago.

But some relatives have already dismissed the gathering as carefully choreographed and one that will not provide a platform for open discussion.

“The President will meet with some moms that have been pulled out of his pocket who will ask the right questions and thank him,” said Olga Tsukanova, an activist mom.

Her 20-year-old son is currently doing his military service and she wants to make sure he is not sent to Ukraine.

Tsukanova traveled 900 kilometers (560 miles) from the Volga city of Samara in hopes of being seen at the Kremlin.

– Sour Memories –

“I’m not alone. Invite us, Vladimir Vladimirovich, answer our questions!” she said, referring to the President by his middle name.

Anger at the fate of mobilized men, which risks escalating into genuine discontent, has put the Kremlin in an awkward position, analysts said.

While authorities have unleashed an unprecedented crackdown on political dissent as troops fight in Ukraine, the word of mothers is sacred in Russia.

Locking her up is not an option.

For Putin, the sight of angry relatives could bring back difficult memories from the beginning of his rule more than two decades ago.

In August 2000, the Russian leader was criticized for being too slow to react when the Kursk submarine sank, killing all 118 crew on board.

Two wars in Chechnya led to the rise of the mothers’ movement in Russia, which was a thorn in the side of the Kremlin.

But this time the climate is different, with no independent media left in the country and a de facto ban on public criticism of Putin’s offensive.

This means that the operation in Ukraine has hardly been publicly questioned. But in Russia, some raise questions about the conditions under which relatives are sent to fight.

– ‘Bring power to account’ –

The status of mothers and wives as relatives of mobilized men serving the country gives them a form of protection rather than being viewed as ordinary adversaries.

“There’s a subconscious sense that women have this right” to hold power accountable, said sociologist Alexei Levinson of the independent Levada Center.

“But this is not a woman for the peace movement,” he warned.

“They want the state to fulfill its responsibility as a ‘collective father’ towards the mobilized.”

At the moment, the Soldiers’ Mothers movement is uncoordinated and disparate, made up mostly of concerned relatives posting videos on social media, where some informal groups have formed.

Tsukanova, for example, who has ties to the controversial opposition activist Svetlana Peunova, who is accused of spreading political conspiracy theories in Russia, became involved in the mothers’ movement.

In a climate of suspicion not seen since Soviet times, many women fear trouble for complaining about the offensive and refrain from speaking to the foreign press.

“We sent letters to the authorities,” one woman told AFP anonymously.

“It’s not the journalists who get our boys out of the trenches and we don’t want to do them any more harm.”

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