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Putin denounces ‘lies’ in the media during meeting with soldiers’ mothers

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday lashed out at what he said were skewed media portrayals of Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine when he met mothers of Russian soldiers fighting there.

“Life is more difficult and diverse than what can be seen on TV screens or even on the internet. There are many fakes, deceptions, lies there,” Putin said.

The Kremlin meeting with more than a dozen women came as uncertainty remains over whether recruitment efforts can resume despite recent setbacks on the battlefield.

Putin said he sometimes speaks directly to troops by phone, according to a Kremlin transcript and photos of the meeting.

“I have spoken with (troops) who surprised me with their temper, their attitude to the matter. They didn’t expect these calls from me… (the calls) give me every reason to say they are heroes,” Putin said.

Some soldiers’ relatives have complained that they were not invited to the rally and have directly criticized Putin’s leadership, as well as the recent “partial mobilization” that defense officials said 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 authorities have ignored questions and requests from her organization.

“We are here in Moscow, ready to meet you. We are waiting for your reply,” she said directly to Putin.

“We have men in the defense ministry, in the military prosecutor’s office, powerful guys in the presidential administration… and mothers on the other side. Do you engage in dialogue or do you hide?” she said in her message. Unconfirmed reports from some Russian media outlets suggested that some of the women who met Putin on Friday were members of pro-Kremlin social movements, the ruling United Russia party or local officials who supported 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 regions of Russia, calling on authorities to release their relatives from their front lines and ensure they have proper food rations, shelter and equipment.

Reports from the AP, independent Russian media and activists have suggested that many of the mobilized reservists are inexperienced, told to procure basic items such as medical kits and body armor on their own, and have not received proper training before deployment. Some were killed within days.

In Russia, concerns remain over whether the Kremlin will resume its mobilization efforts as Ukrainian forces continue to launch a counter-offensive in the south and east of the country. Moscow has suffered a series of battlefield setbacks, losing ground in the northeastern regions of Kharkiv and the southern regions of Kherson.

While Russian officials last month declared the “partial mobilization” complete, critics have warned it could resume after military recruiting offices are exempted from processing conscripts from Russia’s annual fall draft.

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