Vladimir Putin said he empathizes with the mothers of Russian soldiers he sent to die in an unprovoked attack on Ukraine.
With cameras rolling, the embattled Russian leader addressed a carefully curated gathering of more than a dozen grieving moms at the Kremlin Friday.
The 70-year-old president said nothing can take the place of a lost son. "I would like you to know that I personally, and the whole leadership of the country, we share your pain," he said.
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley estimates Russia and Ukraine have each lost 100,000 troops in the past ten months of fighting. By most accounts, Russia has greatly underperformed during its invasion, with a cold winter on the way.
Still not calling the fighting in Ukraine a "war," Putin warned his audience not to believe dispatches from the battle front.
"Life is more difficult and diverse that what is shown on TV screens or even on the Internet," he said. "There are many fakes, cheating, lies there."
Putin claimed he'd spoken to Russian troops and found them to be in good spirits, despite reports to the contrary.
U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told the Daily Beast Russian troops were "demoralized, poorly trained (and) poorly equipped" and urged Ukraine, which has been launching aggressive counter-offenses, to keep up the intensity.
"It would be in the Ukraine's interest to maintain momentum through the winter," Wallace said.
Some mothers' groups took to social media to complain they'd been unable to get an audience with the man who sent their children to war. Sunday is Mother's Day in Russia.
With News Wire Services