Staunton, Jan. 13 – Moscow has a long history of setting up officially controlled organizations with names and ostensibly similar responsibilities alongside existing NGOs the Russian government doesn’t like in the hopes of distracting attention from the real ones, undermining their authority, and thus weaking their ability to carry out real tasks.
These organizations, often called “spoilers,” have appeared in many places over the years. Now, Valentina Melnikova, head of the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee, says the Kremlin has set up several such groups to undermine hers, including the Committee of Families of Warriors of the Fatherland and Soldiers’ Widows of Russia (verstka.media/valentina-melnikova-spoilery-soldatskih-zhen-i-materey/).
These spoilers support Putin’s war in Ukraine, argue that women should support their husbands and sons going to fight there, and call all who oppose the war traitors or worse, she says. Some of these groups work directly with the state; others pose as completely independent although they always follow the government’s line.
Melnnikova says that her group has experienced this tactic frequently since 1990 and that it became especially common during the wars in Chechnya and now the war in Ukraine. What is most concerning now, she continues, is that those who need the kind of help the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee can provide may be confused and not get that help.
But she suggests the risk of that is minimal because her organization has the reputation among most Russians as the place to turn when one of their relatives land in difficulties in the course of military service. What the spoilers do do is muddy the waters about what Russians think about the war – and that may be why Moscow is promoting these groups now.