Vladimir Putin met with mothers of Russian soldiers for a cup of tea and an extended, televised exchange.
Contrary to his treatment of Russian officials over the years, the Russian president got up close and personal with women at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow. He told them that he felt the pain of families who lost their sons and would do all he could to support them.
He advised them to not trust anything they find on the internet. They were open and honest with their feelings. He appeared sincere and hurt.
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This is what he needs to do. Social media is flooded with videos of mobilised men, or “mobiks”, complaining about a lack in basic equipment, weaponry, or training. The general idea being that they are being sent at the front as cannon fodder.
Mothers and wives from across the country are simultaneously filming themselves asking the president for help with their many problems and making sure that their husbands are well taken care of.
The Kremlin understands that to stop this spread of complaints virally, it is important to embrace it, praise the mother, and claim the president is listening.
A series of speakers spoke to a crowd of mostly young officers and cadets at a Moscow event entitled “Heart of Soldier’s Mother”.
Award and carnations were given to women whose husbands or sons are fighting on the frontlines. One man read a long poem about why other countries should not have raped the Russian bear.
The closing remarks were interrupted by a fiery finale that featured a host of performers and ballroom dancers representing the cultural wing of the army.
Tatyana Umarova (her husband and son are at the front) tells me what she thinks Ukraine’s motherland is doing.
She says, “If you live in your house and your neighbor’s is a mess – it’s full of cockroaches and drunk guests and you have children – you won’t be able to live peacefully.”
“You can picture that you will one day come home from work and your children will be there with drunk neighbours. That eventually the cockroaches may spread to your apartment.” “You live with the possibility of being attacked.”
She sympathizes with Ukrainian mothers, saying that “a son for a mom is the same son regardless of whether they are Russian or Ukrainian.” I believe that we all are part of one big nation, regardless of whether I am right. All I want is for their sons to return home healthy and happy.
It is not possible to promise this, and it remains to see if today’s event will improve the conditions of Russian soldiers at the front or if it is a PR stunt.
A group of women who were disappointed to not have been invited called themselves the “All-Russian Council of Mothers”.
They arrived from different parts of the country to try and arrange meetings with representatives from the Ministry of Defence, Russian parliament, and the Kremlin.
They were instead followed by unidentified people, who kept their hoods on, and challenged the women.
Olga Tuskanova, the face of the group’s social media presence this week, stated that “the authorities don’t want to listen and they are showing it any way they can.”
They demand improved conditions for the mobilised, getting rid of nuclear arms and convincing the president to seek peace.
They also have some highly questionable conspiratorial world views about a alleged cabal of powerful people who are not part of the Kremlin and they believe orchestrated this conflict. They are being treated with caution, which is not surprising.
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The Committee of Soldier’s Mothers, on the other hand, has no illusions about Russia’s mothers’ abilities and limitations. Since the start of the war in Afghanistan, the organisation has been running under the leadership of Valentina Melnikova.
For decades, she has worked on behalf of mothers to negotiate with authorities to get information about missing bodies, their return, and assistance for those in need.
I ask her about the hopes of many West Europeans that Russian mothers will convince the Kremlin change its course.
She replies, “We couldn’t do anything in 1999, when Mr Putin was elected prime minister. He started the second Chechen War.”
“Anyone who thinks they can influence the Russian leadership from within the country is deeply mistaken.”