The children of Russia’s elite are allegedly joining the ranks of ordinary citizens to fight in Ukraine. The most notable example is Nikolai Choles, the son of the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. Last week, Choles gave an interview to the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, where he said he was fighting alongside Wagner Group mercenaries. However, it is difficult to prove this claim.
- Nikolai Choles is Peskov’s son from his first marriage to Anastasia Budyonnaya, granddaughter of the famous Soviet military commander Semyon Budyonny. After their divorce, Anastasia and her son moved to Britain, where she remarried. In the early 2010s, Nikolai returned to Russia, where he served in the army and even took part in a Victory Day parade in Red Square. He worked for a time at the television channel RT as a sports reporter and promoted sports events. Investigative journalists noted Choles’ luxurious lifestyle, as he flew in private jets and drove expensive cars.
- In an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda, Choles said that he went to war because he felt it was his duty, and even won a medal for “a specific military feat.” Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed Peskov personally asked him to send his son Nikolai to the front. “And it all worked out absolutely fine,” Prigozhin said. “A regular artilleryman, up to his knees in mud and shit, on an Uragan rocket launcher.” He added that Choles served under an assumed name.
- It’s hard to say whether Choles really fought with Wagner. There is no concrete confirmation. The only “video evidence” released so far by propagandist Vladimir Solovyov was inconclusive – it’s impossible to identify Peskov’s son from a clip that shows a masked man whose face is obscured. There are no photos from the front in which Choles can be clearly identified. Political analyst and propagandist Sergei Markov tried to pass off a photo of the son of former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as a picture of Peskov’s son, which inspired a popular meme on social media.
- In Sep. 2022, after Russia launched partial mobilization, Choles received a phone call from an associate of opposition activist Alexei Navalny, who asked if Choles would be willing to go fight in Ukraine. Choles refused, adding that he would handle the issue “on a different level.”
Why the world should care
Supporters of the war have often called for the children of Russia’s elite to serve on the frontlines. This includes Prigozhin, who says this could lead to full mobilization.
In this regard, since the war started in Ukraine, a fake quote from Alexander Lebed, a general during the Chechen wars of the 1990s, became popular online: “Let me recruit a company of children of the elite, and the war will be over in a day.” However, a different meaning is attributed to this quote – none of Russia’s elite will put their children in danger. If this did start to happen, Putin’s closest associates would do everything to persuade him to stop the war.
The Choles case suggests the opposite (assuming he really served on the front line). Propagandist Vladimir Solovyov used this story to show that “all classes” were part of the war effort, from “ordinary peasants” to the children of senior state officials.