Vladimir Putin has met with a handpicked cadre of mothers of soldiers fighting in Ukraine for a carefully staged meeting meant to calm public anger over mobilization.
While dozens of ordinary mothers have gone public saying they were snubbed by the Kremlin, Putin sat down with a former government official, the mother of a senior military and police officer from Chechnya, and other women active in pro-war NGOs financed by the state.
The Guardian has managed to confirm the identities of at least three of the women who met with Putin on Friday in a highly publicized meeting at his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo on the outskirts of Moscow.
None of the women are critical of the war against Ukraine and several have publicly sought to quell fears about the poor treatment, inadequate training, and other dangers faced by Russian troops being mustered to be sent to the front.
Yet the very fact of the meeting showed that the Kremlin is worried about the perception of its mobilization at home.
“It is clear that life is more complicated and diverse than what is shown on TV screens or even on the internet – you can’t trust anything there at all, there are a lot of all sorts of fakes, deception, lies,” Putin told the women, who were seated around a large, oval table.
“This is why we have gathered with you, that’s why I proposed this meeting because I wanted to listen to you first-hand.”
One of the women sitting next to Putin was Olesya Shigina, an ultra-conservative Russian poet, filmmaker and activist who recently traveled to the Donbas region to direct a pro-war film featuring Russian troops.
In a radio interview last month on the Russian Vesti FM radio station, Shigina dismissed reports of mounting anger among Russian conscripts over poor equipment and a lack of basic training.
“At the front, no one is angry at the government … They have one goal there, and that is to win.
A person who knows Shigina described her as “radically pro-government”. “Ideologically, she holds the same views as Dugin,” they said, referring to the Russian arch-nationalist Alexander Dugin, whose daughter Darya Dugina was killed outside Moscow in August in a car bomb.
The person, who asked for anonymity so they could speak freely, said one of Shigina’s sons had volunteered to fight in Ukraine.
It was not immediately clear if Shigina has any direct ties to the Russian government. According to local media, she last month participated in a Russian government-funded “humanitarian” project that took place in the Donbas region.
Another woman is Zharadat Aguyeva of Chechnya, the North Caucasus region ruled by Ramzan Kadyrov. Local state media reported on Friday that she has two sons fighting in Ukraine: one is a senior military commander in the Zapad-Akhmat battalion, and the other is the commander of a regional police department in Chechnya.
The family appears to be close to Chechnya’s leadership. Kadyrov wished the two brothers good health in a Telegram post in October. They also appeared to be fighting in Ukraine alongside his three teenage sons. Kadyrov said that Rustam Aguyev, the police commander, told him that his sons had fought “bravely, cold-bloodedly, decisively”.