DFor weeks, their videos have flooded the Russian-language internet as mothers and wives of Russian soldiers mobilized to fight in Ukraine gather across Russia and demand that President Vladimir Putin’s promises be kept. The Kremlin, in ordering a partial mobilization in September, assured that hundreds of thousands of conscripts would receive serious training, be well-equipped, and not be sent to the front lines.
But many violations were recorded: the death of those mobilized at the front; mobilization of unfit men, fathers of many children or too old; lack of proper equipment and military training for many conscripts. This disorderly mobilization, which prompted the authorities to admit their “mistakes”, caused alarm among the relatives of the soldiers sent to Ukraine.
This concern, which risks turning into discontent, puts the Kremlin in a delicate position: if the authorities ruthlessly suppress any doubts about an offensive in Ukraine, the word of soldiers’ wives is sacred, and their imprisonment will shock Russia. In a sign that the government is taking this seriously, Vladimir Putin is scheduled to meet for the first time on Friday, November 25, with the mothers of soldiers sent to Ukraine. But some relatives are already looking forward to a carefully orchestrated meeting without substantive discussion.
Vladimir Putin will meet “mothers up his sleeve who will ask relevant questions and thank him, as always,” says Olga Tsukanova, the mother of a young man serving in the military. “Vladimir Vladimirovich, answer our questions!” launches this woman who wants to make sure that her 20-year-old son is not sent illegally to the front or to the border with Ukraine, where shells are also falling.
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She specially came to Moscow from the city of Samara, which is 900 km to the east, in the hope of being received in the Kremlin. In vain. “I think they are afraid that we will ask uncomfortable questions. But we have to solve the problem! The President of Russia knows how sensitive the topic of soldiers’ relatives is.
In August 2000, during the sinking of a Russian submarine Kursk, which resulted in the deaths of 118 crew members, he was heavily criticized for being slow to respond. Then he gave the first sip of the media. During the two wars in Chechnya, the Soldiers’ Mothers movement also embarrassed those in power and increased the feeling of discontent in Russian society.
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This time, faced with an atmosphere of heightened repression, the protests of the soldiers’ wives and mothers do not directly question the offensive in Ukraine, but some condemn the conditions under which their relatives are sent there. And their status as mobilized mothers and wives, who left to serve the country, gives them legitimacy and a form of protection from persecution, since the authorities cannot consider them as ordinary opponents.
“Let the state fulfill its function of the “collective father””
In Russian society, “there is an unconscious feeling that women have the right” to hold the authorities accountable, said Alexei Levinson, a sociologist with the independent Levada Center. These women “demand the state to fulfill its function as the ‘collective father’ of the mobilized,” he adds. “When the state or the military leader does not fulfill his duties, women complain. »
While the movement is fragmented, inconsistent. Calls from relatives in trouble are broadcast on social networks, where informal groups gather around figureheads. This is the case of Olga Tsukanova, who at the same time advocates for controversial opponent Svetlana Peunova, who is wanted in Russia and accused of spreading conspiracy theories.
Under conditions of aggravated repression, other women are still afraid to get into trouble or worsen the situation of their loved ones, speaking to the press, especially foreign ones. “We sent official letters to the authorities,” one of them wrote to Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity. “It’s not the journalists who are going to get our people out of the trenches, and we don’t want to give them any more trouble. »
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