The angry wives of Russian soldiers are becoming a thorn in Vladimir Putin’s side

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  • The wives of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine are becoming an increasingly powerful voice of dissent.
  • Their actions echo those of women who protested the military’s treatment of their sons during the Soviet Union.
  • One analyst told WaPo that Putin will show “no pity,” and servicemembers’ relatives could be punished with “more repressive measures.”

As Vladimir Putin wages war against Ukraine, he faces a growing threat from within his borders: the angry relatives of Russian soldiers.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, and the war has only intensified in the months since. And as more Russians are sent to fight, their wives and mothers have become an increasingly powerful force of dissent, arguing that their loved ones are ill-used or deserve to return home after nearly two years of war.

It’s not the first time that Russian soldiers’ relatives have protested and risked angering the government’s powerful security establishment.

During the Soviet Union, the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers played a pivotal role in publicizing dedovshchina, the practice of hazing and abusing younger, newer servicemen.

The CSM “emerged as a mass movement” while Mikhail Gorbachev was president, “aimed at exposing and eradicating the violence endemic in Soviet military barracks,” one scholar wrote in The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies.

The wives and mothers of Russian soldiers today appear to be taking a page out of a similar playbook.

Their pushback has been so concerning that FSB agents have questioned soldiers whose wives are protesting and military officers have threatened to send soldiers to the front lines if their wives don’t back down, The Washington Post reported.

“Your methods are very dirty,” said one message posted to a Telegram channel advocating for soldiers to be brought home, according to The Post. “You are trying to calm our anger by putting pressure on our relatives.”

But Putin’s government isn’t backing down.

Since the Ukraine war began in early 2022, more than 6,500 people have been fined or arrested for violating a sweeping censorship law that Putin signed just days after the invasion, according to a New York Times analysis of court documents.

Citizens have been targeted for a slew of actions that the government deems antiwar speech, from people painting their nails blue and yellow — the colors of the Ukrainian flag — to requesting that a DJ play a Ukrainian song, to spray painting antiwar slogans in the snow.

But the Russian president faces a more complex dilemma where the relatives of soldiers are concerned. Namely, how do you silence dissent while managing the political risks that come with stifling the voices of women whose sons and husbands are fighting on Putin’s orders?

The Post noted that Putin recently squashed a proposed new round of mobilization that would allow for beleaguered soldiers who have been fighting for a year or longer to come home.

“There will be no pity,” Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian political analyst in France, told the outlet. “And the Kremlin will try to keep them silent. And if there will be some more radicalized actions, they will resort to more repressive measures.”

Russian soldiers, meanwhile, are growing increasingly demoralized, distrustful of military leadership, and desperate to return home.

Their anger has intensified as the war nears its 24th month and soldiers frequently complain about a lack of access to basic necessities, to a troop shortage that’s resulted in untrained and unequipped conscripts being thrown into the thick of battle.

“There’s no fucking ‘dying the death of the brave’ here,” one soldier in the Kharkiv region told his brother, according to a recording of a January phone call obtained by The Associated Press. “You just die like a fucking earthworm.”

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