“Vladimir, answer us!”: the anger of the wives and mothers of Russian soldiers growls

In September, the Kremlin had ordered a partial mobilization of Russian men. But many violations had been identified, feeding the concern of their relatives. Anger is now brewing and puts the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin in an awkward position.

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DFor weeks, their videos have flooded the Russian-speaking internet: mothers and wives of Russian soldiers mobilized to fight in Ukraine gather across Russia and demand that President Vladimir Putin’s promises be honored.

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. . A sign that the government takes this seriously, Mr. Putin must for the first time meet Friday with the mothers of soldiers sent to Ukraine. But some relatives are already anticipating a carefully choreographed meeting, without discussion on the merits.

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Mr. Putin will meet “mothers out of his sleeve, who will ask the appropriate questions and thank him, as always”, regrets Olga Tsoukanova, mother of a young man who is doing his military service. “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 or to the border with Ukraine, where the shells are also falling. 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! “.

Ask for accounts

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. Then he had given a first turn of the screw to the media. During the two wars in Chechnya, a movement of soldiers’ mothers had also embarrassed those in power and reinforced a feeling of discontent throughout Russian society.

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 the country, gives them legitimacy and a form of protection against persecution, the power not being able to consider them as ordinary opponents.

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. These women “demand that the State fulfill its function of ‘collective father’ of the mobilized”, he adds. “When the state or the military commander does not fulfill their functions, women make complaints”.

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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.

In a climate of exacerbated repression, other women still fear getting into trouble or aggravating 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. »

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