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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s staged sitdown with a group of selectively chosen mothers of soldiers fighting or killed in Ukraine drew widespread criticism Saturday.

“We share your pain,” Putin told the women assembled at the Kremlin Friday ahead of Russia’s Mother’s Day on Sunday. “Nothing can replace the loss of a son.”

Several of the mothers are members of pro-Kremlin movements, the BBC reported, which led critics to charge they were carefully chosen for the meeting while those who have spoken out against the war were excluded.

Putin told the women that what they hear online and on television cannot always be trusted.

“Life is more difficult and diverse that what is shown on TV screens or even on the Internet,” Putin said. “There are many fakes, cheating, lies there.”

Several of the mothers are reportedly affiliated with pro-Kremlin movements.
Several of the mothers are reportedly affiliated with pro-Kremlin movements.
AP

The strongman also offered strange comfort, telling one mother that her son “achieved his goal” and “didn’t die in vain,” avoiding reference to Russia’s battlefield defeats. He also compared the deaths to those caused by car crashes and alcoholism.

“In our country, about 30,000 people die in road accidents (per year). About the same number die from alcohol,” the Russian president said. “We are all mortal, and someday all of us will leave this world. It is inevitable.”

Earlier this month, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, estimated that more than 100,000 Russian soldiers and 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been wounded or killed in the war.

Critics lambasted the meeting for excluding key activists.
Critics lambasted the meeting for excluding key activists.
AP

Milley’s estimates starkly contrast Russia’s most recent death toll update, which came in September when Moscow said that just 5,937 troops had been killed since the beginning of the war.

The meeting made clear that Putin is wary of the reaction to the war at home. Critics were quick to highlight his chosen audience did not include any of the activist military spouses and mothers who have demanded an audience with him.

Among those who got a seat at the table were poet and director Olesya Shigina, known for producing patriotic films, and Nadezhda Uzunova, an activist with the veterans’ NGO the Fighting Brotherhood which is headed by ex-governor of Moscow and former general Boris Gromov, according to The Guardian.

The meeting signaled that Putin is concerned about the reaction to the war in Russia.
The meeting signaled that Putin is concerned about the reaction to the war in Russia.
SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

A third woman was identified as Zharadat Aguyeva, who has two sons fighting in Ukraine and whose family reportedly has close ties to Chechen leadership.

The decision to surround Putin with supporters enraged some who accused the president of seeding his audience.

“Vladimir Vladimirovich, are you a man or what?” Olga Tsukanova, the president of Russia’s Council of Wives and Mothers, asked in a video posted to Telegram. “Do you have the courage to look us in the eye, not with hand-picked women and mothers in your pocket, but with real women, who have traveled from various cities here to meet with you?”

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