Russia ‘paying off’ soldiers’ wives to silence anti-war dissent before election

Russia is likely paying off the wives of its soldiers in a bid to silence dissent about the war in Ukraine, the UK Government has claimed.

The Kremlin is reportedly concerned that opposition from the families of conscripted soldiers could pose a serious political issue in the run-up to its 2024 presidential election, and is attempting to silence opposition through payouts and online attacks.

The partners of soldiers sent to fight in Ukraine have carried out “small scale” protests in Moscow this month against their treatment by the Kremlin, the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) said.

The demonstrations marked some of the first public protests since the start of the war in February 2022.

The wives are reportedly angry about conscripted soldiers being sent on long deployments on the front line and the late, or lack of, wages.

On 7 November, soldiers’ wives carried out what was “probably the first public street protest in Moscow” since the start of the invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago, the MOD said.

The women gathered in Teatralnya Square holding banners demanding that their spouses be rotated away from the front line but the demonstration was dispersed “within minutes”.

On 27 November, a prominent online group of soldiers’ wives also published a manifesto against the “indefinite mobilisation” of their spouses.

In response, the Russian state is offering cash payments to those who speak out in a bid to buy their silence and attempting to discredit them online, UK authorities said.

Four days after the manifesto was published, the group was given a “fake” label online, which the MOD said was “likely at the instigation of pro-Kremlin actors”.

“Research by independent Russia media outlets and comments by protesting wives themselves suggest that, in recent weeks, the authorities have likely offered increased cash payments to families in return for them refraining from protest,” the MOD said in an intelligence update on Saturday morning.

“The authorities are likely particularly sensitive to any protests related to those citizens mobilised in September 2022, who have now been at the front line for over a year.”

i is not able to independently verify claims of payoffs. The Russian Embassy has been approached for comment.

Earlier this year, the wives of Russian soldiers deployed in Ukraine told Radio Free Europe – a US-Government funded news outlet which covers locations where press freedom is threatened – that their spouses were being paid poorly, late and that some had not received any pay at all.

“He asks about pay, but only receives empty promises. His commanders tell him he just needs to wait, but there’s been no money coming in for two months now,” one said.

The Kremlin is reportedly concerned that protests from wives and relatives of conscripted troops could stir up dissent within Russia and become “one of the most important” political problems, according to Russian opposition outlet Verstka.

It has ordered the payment of salaries to be sped up in a bid to stop tensions spilling over, Verstka said, citing sources in federal and regional authorities.

Demonstrations against the 2022 invasion of Ukraine within Russia were met with a harsh response from authorities, with thousands believed to have been arrested.

 The crackdown has since extended to new laws against public protest, criticism of the army and invasion, and the designation of anti-war civil society groups as “foreign agents.”

But opposition movements have evolved and continue operating underground, and social media sites and opposition media outlets challenge the prevailing narrative in Russia over the war.