(Moscow) Russian President Vladimir Putin assured Friday to share the “pain” of the mothers of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine, whose calls have flooded the Russian-speaking Internet for weeks to demand the respect of the promises of the Kremlin.
“I want you to know that I, personally, all the leaders of the country, we share this pain. We know that nothing can replace the loss of a son, ”said Mr. Putin in a short speech broadcast on television, during a meeting with mothers of Russian soldiers and mobilized.
However, he called for not believing the “lies” broadcast on television and on the internet about the Russian offensive in Ukraine, while military setbacks, and therefore losses, have multiplied for Moscow in recent months.
This was the first meeting between Vladimir Putin and the mothers of soldiers sent to Ukraine. Critical voices, however, denounced a carefully choreographed meeting, without discussion on the substance.
The Kremlin, after ordering a partial mobilization in September, had assured that the hundreds of thousands of conscripts would undergo solid training, receive good equipment and not be sent to the front line.
But many violations have been recorded: death at the front of mobilized; mobilization of unfit men, fathers of large families or too old; lack of adequate equipment and military training for many conscripts.
This disorderly mobilization, which pushed the authorities to admit “errors”, spread concern among the relatives of the soldiers sent to Ukraine.
This concern, which risks degenerating into discontent, puts the Kremlin in a delicate situation: if the authorities relentlessly repress any questioning of the offensive in Ukraine, the word of soldiers’ wives is sacred and imprisoning them would shock Russia. .
“Vladimir, answer us!” »
Before Friday’s meeting, relatives of soldiers told AFP that they felt they were not being listened to by the Russian authorities.
Olga Tsoukanova, mother of a young man who is doing his military service, thus castigated in advance a meeting with “mothers out of his sleeve, who will ask the appropriate questions and thank him, as always”.
“Vladimir Vladimirovich, answer our questions!” “says this woman who wants to make sure that her 20-year-old son will not be illegally sent to the front.
She came specially to Moscow from the city of Samara, 900 km to the east, in the hope of being received in the Kremlin. In vain. “I imagine they’re afraid we’ll ask awkward questions. But we have to solve the problem! »
The Russian president knows how sensitive the subject of relatives of soldiers is.
In August 2000, during the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk which caused the death of its 118 crew members, he was strongly criticized, accused of having been slow to react. And during the two wars of Chechnya, a movement of mothers of soldiers had also embarrassed the power.
This time, faced with a climate of heightened repression, the protests by soldiers’ wives and mothers do not directly question the offensive in Ukraine, but some denounce the conditions in which their relatives are sent there.
And their status as mothers and wives of mobilized men, gone to serve their country, gives them legitimacy and a form of protection against persecution.
Ask for accounts
In Russian society, “there is the unconscious feeling that women have the right” to hold power to account, notes Alexei Levinson, sociologist at the independent Levada center.
For now, the movement is disparate, uncoordinated. Calls from relatives in distress are broadcast on social networks, where informal collectives gather around figureheads.
This is the case of Olga Tsoukanova who also militates at the same time for a controversial opponent, Svetlana Peounova, wanted in Russia and accused of promoting conspiracy theories.
Still, other women fear getting into trouble or worsening the situation of those close to them by speaking to the press, especially foreign ones.
“We have sent official letters to the authorities,” one of them wrote to AFP, on condition of anonymity. “It’s not the journalists who are going to get our men out of the trenches and we don’t want to cause them any more problems. »