The widow of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mentor, herself a Russian legislator, is saying that 96 percent of a 100-man military company didn’t make it back, according to media reports.
The news, if true, would be the latest blow to Putin’s reputation as a calculating and shrewd planner as the war in Ukraine drags on and casualties mount — although it’s not clear just how many Russia has incurred.
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The allegation comes from Lyudmila Narusova, a member of the upper chamber of parliament in Russia, the Federation Council. She’s also the widow of Anatoly Sobchak, Putin’s political mentor.
According to The Associated Press, during a live-streamed debate in the council, she claimed to know of a company of 100 men that came back with only four of them left.
“Yesterday the conscripts, who were forced to sign a contract or signed for them, were withdrawn from the war zone in Ukraine,” Narusova said, according to the U.K. Express.
“But from a company of a hundred men only four were left alive.”
As you might expect, such a statement has dire consequences, given the current environment in Russia. She made the statement as the Russian Duma was passing a law that would punish people with 15 years behind bars for disseminating “fake” information about the Ukrainian invasion.
What counts as “fake?” Primarily referring to the war as a “war,” the Express noted, as opposed to Putin’s preferred nomenclature, “special operation.” While this mostly has to do with reporting, it’s another sign that Putin isn’t messing around when it comes to punishing his rivals, both foreign and domestic, especially now.
The AP couldn’t confirm the casualties and Narusova said the Defense Ministry refused to confirm them.
While Russia said Wednesday that 498 of its soldiers had died during the Ukrainian conflict, that number is believed to be far higher. Russia claims to have killed over 7,000 troops.
Narusova has been one of the few Russian lawmakers who have spoken out publicly against the invasion.
Last Sunday, The New York Times reported, she said during a TV interview that fallen Russian soldiers in Ukraine lay “unburied; wild, stray dogs gnawing on bodies that in some cases cannot be identified because they are burned.”
“I do not identify myself with those representatives of the state that speak out in favor of the war,” Narusova said. “I think they themselves do not know what they are doing. They are following orders without thinking.”
Narusova’s open defiance of Putin stands in starker relief because her late husband, Anatoly Sobchak, was Putin’s political mentor, having gotten him into politics during the post-Soviet period after Sobchak became the first democratically elected mayor of Saint Petersburg.
According to Newsweek, a former Kremlin aide said Sobchak needed Putin, a former KGB agent, because he was “someone who could bridge the gap between the former dissidents who were now in office and their old persecutors [in the KGB].”
Sobchak died in 2000. As the BBC noted in a 2008 report, the official cause was given as a heart attack, although Narusova believes he was killed.
Putin, presumably, isn’t quite interested in bridging any gaps between the persecuted and their persecutors right now. Unfortunately, one also suspects Lyudmila Narusova will be joining the ranks of the former.
If what she’s saying is true, however, the damage to Putin’s dictatorship could be long-lasting — particularly given the humiliation he’s already suffered on the world stage.