- Putin meets mothers of soldiers, some of them next of kin
- Putin: ‘I personally, and the entire leadership, share your pain’
- Russia has not fully enumerated its losses on the battlefield
- Some mothers say the Kremlin ignores more critical relatives
LONDON, Nov. 25 (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Friday met with more than a dozen mothers of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine, telling those who had lost sons that he and the entire leadership shared their suffering.
The war in Ukraine has killed or wounded tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides, according to the United States, and the Russian invasion has sparked the biggest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
Hundreds of thousands of Russians have been sent to Ukraine to fight – including some of the more than 300,000 who were called up as part of a mobilization Putin announced in September.
Meeting with 17 women at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow to mark Russian Mother’s Day on Sunday, Putin was shown in a short pre-recorded clip sitting with them around a table laden with tea, cake and bowls fresh berries. Many smiled when Putin entered.
Putin said he understood the fear and anxiety of soldiers’ mothers – and the pain of those who had lost sons in Ukraine.
“I would like you to know that I personally and the entire leadership of the country 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 introductory 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 turning point as Russia finally stood up to arrogant Western hegemony after decades of humiliation in the years since the fall of power in 1991. Soviet Union.
Ukraine and the West say Putin has no justification for what they see as an imperialist war of conquest. Ukraine says it will fight until the last Russian soldier is exiled.
‘FAKES, CHEAT, LIES’
In what appeared to be an attempt to counter online coverage of the problems facing Russian troops in the war, Putin urged mothers to distrust the internet.
“You can’t trust anything there, there are all kinds of fakes, deceptions, lies,” Putin said.
He praised their sons for defending what he called Novorossiya, literally “new Russia”, a loaded Tsarist Empire term used by modern Russian nationalists to describe a swathe of southern and eastern Ukraine that Russia now claims.
Putin said he sometimes called Russian soldiers to the front and their words made them heroes in his eyes.
But some relatives of soldiers killed in the war said the Kremlin ignored their requests for a meeting.
“The mothers will ask the ‘right’ questions that have been agreed in advance,” Olga Tsukanova, head of the Council of Mothers and Wives, said in a Telegram post ahead of the meeting.
“Vladimir Vladimirovich – are you a man or who are you? Do you have the courage to meet us in person, openly, not with prearranged wives and mothers who are in your pocket, but with real women who have traveled from different cities? here to meet you? We are waiting for your reply,” said Tsukanova.
Russia last made public its losses in the war on Sept. 21, when Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 5,937 Russian soldiers had been killed. That number is well below most international estimates.
The United States’ top general estimated on November 9 that Russia and Ukraine had each killed or wounded more than 100,000 of their soldiers. Ukraine does not disclose its losses.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Edited by Kevin Liffey
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