Putin talks to mothers of soldiers fighting in Ukraine in a staged meeting Vladimir Putin

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 official 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 ordered 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 Duginwhose 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, last month she participated in a Russian government-funded “humanitarian” project that took place in the Donbas region.

Another of the women 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, 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”.

In a video published in late October, Aguyev threatened Chechens trying to avoid fighting in the war.

“Those of you with drawn-on beards and tight trousers, gnawing on sunflower seeds and talking big,” he said then, according to a report by RFE/RL. “I swear to Allah, I would be ashamed to go out while my brothers are fighting and dying. It is a shame. You desecrate our history. If we come home, we won’t let you out on any of our streets.”

A third woman in the video, Nadezhda Uzunova, is an activist for an ultra-patriotic veterans’ NGO called the Fighting Brotherhood, which is led by the former general and ex-governor of the Moscow region Boris Gromov.

Uzunova has recently published a video on her social media showing her traveling to the Donbas and celebrating on Red Square after Russia declared its annexation of four Ukrainian regions.

Uzunova has closer links to the local government: she previously served as an adviser on local politics to Russia’s Khakassia region, and also served as a member of the campaign staff of the former governor Viktor Zimin.

Veteran soldiers’ rights activists had previously told the Guardian that they expected that the Kremlin would handpick – or even fake – its roster of soldiers’ mothers for the event in order to prevent a scandal from unfolding.

In this case, it appears to have simply chosen women with proven pro-Kremlin bona fides who would not challenge the Russian president over the war.

Valentina Melnikova, a veteran activist who founded the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia in 1989, said she was not invited to the meeting. She said her organization would not be comfortable being represented alongside the “relatives of mobilized.” [soldiers] who are agreed to their husbands and sons dying on the front”.

“They’ll take people from these party activists,” she said. “Or they could just take someone from the FSB … if Putin really wanted to meet with the women who had [complained] in these posts online, he could call them in and do that. But it won’t happen.”

Olga Tsukanova, the co-head of the Council of Mothers and Wives, whose son is serving in the army, had previously demanded that Putin meet “real” women.

“Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], are you a man or what?” she said in a video post. “Do you have the courage to look us in the eye, not with handpicked 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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