Putin Confronts New Hurdle: Dissent from Soldiers' Spouses

Russian Women Rally for Return of Mobilized Husbands

by Zain ul Abedin
Putin Confronts New Hurdle: Dissent from Soldiers' Spouses
© Sergey Guneev - Host Photo Agency/Getty Images

In the outskirts of Moscow, an unprecedented scene unfolds: a gathering of determined women, united in their public disapproval of Russian authorities. This assembly, taking place in a nondescript function room, marks a significant shift in the public discourse surrounding President Vladimir Putin's decision to mobilize 300,000 reservists for the Ukraine conflict in the fall of 2022.

These women, bonded by their shared predicament, are the wives of the men called to war, and their demand is simple yet profound: the return of their husbands to the safety of their homes. Maria, a prominent member of the group, poignantly questions the government's perception of fulfilled military duty.

She fears the worst outcomes: soldiers returning maimed, or worse, not returning at all. The group, named 'The Way Home', was formed through social media connections. Despite their varied opinions on the war, with some in support and others skeptical of the Kremlin's narrative, they stand united in their belief that their husbands have contributed enough and deserve to be reunited with their families.

This opinion, however, clashes with the official stance. In Russia, criticizing the war is a perilous venture, given the strict laws punishing dissent. The palpable frustration among these women is carefully voiced, as they navigate the risks of speaking out against the war.

Protest Against Mobilization

Antonina, another member, expresses a lost trust in the government, a sentiment echoed by many in the group. Their stories, shared with local councillor Boris Nadezhdin, a critic of the war, reflect a growing disillusionment with the government's policies.

Nadezhdin, an occasional guest on national television and a presidential candidate, believes the war has eroded Putin's domestic popularity. The women's campaign has attracted criticism from both supporters and opponents of the Kremlin.

Russian MP Andrei Kartapolov dismissively attributes their cause to external influences, comparing their plight to an unimaginable scenario during World War II. Maria Andreeva, whose husband and cousin have been drafted, finds such comparisons offensive and insists that their campaign is to prevent further mobilizations and to protect civilians from being thrust into conflict.

Despite President Putin's assurance in late 2023 of no immediate need for further mobilization, the situation remains fluid and uncertain. In response, these women have initiated a peaceful protest. Every Saturday, they don white headscarves and lay red carnations at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin, a symbolic act of remembrance and a call for "never again".

Dissent Among Russian Families

Their efforts raise questions about Russian society's awareness and empathy towards the families of mobilized reservists. Antonina shares a personal account of dwindling support from her social circle and the harrowing experience of her partner being deployed despite his medical condition.

This movement, though small, represents a significant undercurrent of dissent and dissatisfaction within Russian society. It challenges the narrative of unwavering support for the government's actions, highlighting the human cost of the conflict and the growing divide between the state and its citizens.

As these women continue their campaign for their husbands' return, they not only confront the risks of dissent but also redefine the landscape of public opinion in Russia.