- Putin meets soldiers’ mothers, some left behind
- Putin: ‘I personally and the entire leadership share your pain’
- Russia has not fully accounted for its losses on the battlefield
- Some mothers say the Kremlin is ignoring more critical family groups
LONDON, Nov 25 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin met on Friday with more than a dozen mothers of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine and told those who had lost sons that he and the entire leadership shared their suffering.
That war in Ukraine has killed or wounded tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides, according to the US, and the Russian invasion has sparked the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Hundreds of thousands of Russians have been sent to fight in Ukraine – including some of the more than 300,000 called up as part of a mobilization announced by Putin in September.
Meeting with 17 women at his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow to mark Sunday’s Russian Mother’s Day, Putin was shown in a short pre-recorded clip sitting with them around a table filled with tea, cakes and bowls of fresh berries. Many smiled when Putin entered.
Putin said he understood the anguish and worry of the soldiers’ mothers – and the pain of those who had lost sons in Ukraine.
“I want you to know that I personally and the entire leadership of the country – we share your pain,” Putin said.
“We understand that nothing can replace the loss of a son – especially for a mother,” he added, breathing heavily and clearing his throat frequently. “We share this pain.”
The mothers listened to what appeared to be Putin’s opening remarks, but their comments to him were not immediately shown.
Putin has said he has no regrets about launching what he calls Russia’s “special military operation” against Ukraine, and sees the war as a watershed when Russia finally stood up to arrogant Western hegemony after decades of humiliation in the years since 1991’s fall. Soviet Union.
Ukraine and the West say Putin has no justification for what they say is an imperial-style war of conquest. Ukraine says it will fight until the last Russian soldier is expelled.
‘FAKES, FRAUD, LIES’
In what appeared to be an attempt to counter online reporting about the problems of Russian forces in the war, Putin urged the mothers to distrust the Internet.
“You can’t trust anything there at all, there are all kinds of fakes, deceptions, lies,” Putin said.
He praised their sons for defending what he called Novorossiya, literally “the new Russia,” a read term from the Tsarist Empire that modern Russian nationalists use to describe a part of southern and eastern Ukraine that Russia now claim to.
Putin said he sometimes called Russian soldiers at the front and that their words had made them heroes in his eyes.
But some relatives of soldiers killed in the war said the Kremlin had ignored their pleas for a meeting.
“The mothers will ask the ‘correct’ questions that were agreed in advance,” Olga Tsukanova, head of the Council of Mothers and Wives, said in a message on Telegram before the meeting.
“Vladimir Vladimirovich – are you a man or who are you? Do you have the courage to meet us face to face, openly, not with prearranged women and mothers who are in your pocket, but with real women who have departed from different cities here to meet with you? We await your answer,” said Tsukanova.
Russia last publicly disclosed its losses in the war on September 21, when Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 5,937 Russian soldiers had been killed. That figure is far below most international estimates.
The top US general estimated on November 9 that Russia and Ukraine had each seen more than 100,000 of their troops killed or wounded. Ukraine does not disclose its losses.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kevin Liffey
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