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Russian court jails Ukraine war hawk Igor Girkin

January 25, 2024

A Russian court has jailed nationalist Igor Girkin over his criticism of the Kremlin and defense chiefs' shortcomings in the Ukraine war.

Igor Girkin also known as Igor Strelkov
Igor Girkin, also known as Igor Strelkov, was accused of inciting extremist activityImage: Dmitry Lovetsky/AP Photo/picture alliance

Moscow City Court on Thursday convicted prominent Russian nationalist Igor Girkin of inciting extremism over his criticism of the war in Ukraine and sentenced him to four years in prison.

Girkin accused Russian President Vladimir Putin and top army officials of failing to pursue the Ukraine war effectively enough.

What did the Kremlin critic say?

The court said Girkin had been found guilty of "public calls to carry out extremist activities."

Girkin was placed in custody in July last year after he established the "Club of Angry Patriots" to save Russia from what he claimed was systemic turmoil stemming from military failures in Ukraine and machinations among the political elite about who would eventually succeed Putin.

In a particularly outspoken post on July 18 on his official Telegram channel, Girkin directed a volley of personal insults at Putin and urged him to hand power "to someone truly capable and responsible."

He called Putin an "old idiot" and predicted "the country will not survive another six years of this cowardly mediocrity in power."

While his acerbic criticism had been tolerated by the authorities for months, the mood changed after late Wagner Group commander Yevgeny Prigozhin and his troops launched an aborted mutiny to oust Russia's military leadership last June.

Who is Igor Girkin?

Girkin, who adopted the alias Strelkov (shooter), was a prominent leader of Russian-backed separatist fighters in Ukraine's Donetsk region in 2014, wresting it from Kyiv's control.

He commanded troops from a base in the captured city of Sloviansk, where he reportedly ordered the death penalty for minor crimes such as petty theft.

Girkin is also one of three men sentenced in absentia last year to life imprisonment by a court in the Netherlands for the July 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines plane MH17 over eastern Ukraine.

A former officer for Russia's FSB security service, he was also a battlefield commander and helped Russia to annex Crimea in 2014. 

More cracks appear in Russia's military

He returned to Russia to become a nationalist commentator and activist. While he supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine, he sharply criticized authorities for being inept and indecisive.

While in pre-trial detention, he doubled down on his anti-Kremlin position and sought to mount a campaign to run against Putin in March's presidential elections.

In a media interview from prison, he said the country had "entered a period of acute instability" and faced "imminent catastrophe."

rc/wmr (AFP, AP, Reuters)