MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday denounced what he said were biased media portrayals of Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine as he met with mothers of Russian soldiers fighting there.
“Life is more difficult and diverse than what is shown on TV screens or even on the Internet. There are a lot of fakes, cheats, lies out there,” Putin said.
The Kremlin meeting with more than a dozen women came as uncertainty persists over whether enlistment efforts can resume in the face of recent battlefield setbacks.
Putin said he sometimes spoke directly by phone with troops, according to a Kremlin transcript and photos of the meeting.
“I spoke to (soldiers) who surprised me with their mood, their attitude towards the question. They didn’t expect these calls from me… (the calls) give me every reason to say they are heroes,” Putin said.
Some relatives of soldiers complained that they were not invited to the meeting and directly criticized Putin’s leadership as well as the recent “partial mobilization” which defense officials say has resulted in the call-up of 300,000 reservists .
Olga Tsukanova of the Council of Mothers and Wives, a movement formed by relatives of mobilized soldiers, said in a video message on the Telegram messaging app that the authorities had ignored her organization’s requests and requests.
“We are here in Moscow, ready to meet you. We await your response,” she said, addressing Putin directly.
“We have men in the Ministry of Defence, in the military prosecution, powerful men in the presidential administration… and mothers on the other side. Will you start a dialogue or will you hide? “, she said in her message. Unconfirmed reports from some Russian media suggested that some of the women Putin met with on Friday were members of pro-Kremlin social movements, the ruling United Russia party or local officials supporting Putin’s government.
Valentina Melnikova of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers, a Russian rights organization, told the independent publication Verstka earlier this week that her members were also not invited to the meeting.
Since October, relatives of mobilized soldiers have staged protests in more than a dozen Russian regions, calling on authorities to release their relatives from frontline service and ensure they have food rations, shelter and appropriate equipment.
Reports from the AP, independent Russian media and activists have suggested that many of the reservists mobilized are inexperienced, have been told to procure basic items themselves such as medical kits and body armor, and did not receive proper training prior to deployment. Some were reportedly killed within days.
Concerns persist in Russia about whether the Kremlin might renew its mobilization efforts, as Ukrainian forces continue to wage a counteroffensive in the south and east of the country. Moscow suffered a series of battlefield setbacks, losing territory in the northeastern Kharkiv and southern Kherson regions.
While Russian officials last month declared ‘partial mobilization’ over, critics have warned it could resume after military enlistment offices are freed from processing conscripts from Russia’s annual fall conscription. .