A Russian nationalist politician, retired military officer Igor Strelkov (real name Girkin), is the latest voice to be abruptly removed after criticizing the way Russian President Vladimir Putin is handling the war in Ukraine. Girkin was arrested at his home in Moscow on Friday, his wife and lawyer were alerted. In 2014, Strelkov was one of the military leaders of the Kremlin-instigated separatist campaigns in Ukraine. A court in the capital has decided to keep him in custody until September 18 after he was accused of inciting extremist acts and using social networks to do so. If found guilty, he faces a year in prison.
According to the information service Meduza, activist Pavel Gubarev was also arrested in front of the courthouse where the case of the nationalist politician was being heard. Gubarev, who was demonstrating on the street for Strelkov’s release, was one of the first charismatic separatists of the so-called Russian Spring, which took place in 2014 when he proclaimed himself “people’s governor” of Donetsk in the Donbass region.
Strelkov’s arrest was carried out by members of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the same body the officer was a member of until 2013. That year he retired as a colonel and embarked on an adventure that first led him to take part in the annexation of Crimea in February 2014 and later to become Minister of Defense of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (from May to August of the same year).
Strelkov is one of three well-known figures who have fallen out of favor – in different ways – in recent weeks after his conflicts with Russia’s central authorities became apparent. The others are Yevgeny Prigozhin, the architect of the Wagner mercenary army, and General Ivan Popov, chief of the 58th Army of the Russian Armed Forces, who denounced being relieved of his post for warning of the difficulties faced by Russian troops on the Ukrainian front instead of supporting what the high command wanted to hear. Although unsuccessful, the Wagner mutiny at the end of June became a clear sign of a power tear by Putin.
After his failed march on Moscow, Prigozhin transferred most of his troops to Belarus (to train that country’s army), while some of his fighters joined the Russian forces and others were demobilized. General Popov, for his part, was waiting for a new target after being relieved of his command by order of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Strelkov, Prigozhin and Popov are very different in their biographies, education and status, but what they all have in common is that they have criticized (with varying degrees of emphasis) the Russian Ministry of Defense for the way that department directs and organizes the war against Ukraine.
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Strelkov is one of the founders of the Irritated Patriots of Russia movement, with which he hopes to strengthen society for the expected “victory” in Ukraine, but Russian observers credit him with little influence on current Russian politics. A fan of battle re-enactments and historical exploits, Strelkov was sentenced to life imprisonment by a court in The Hague for his part in the July 17, 2014 downing of a Malaysian Boeing aircraft with 298 people on board, all of whom died, over the separatist-held Donbas.
On July 9, a contingent from the Special Intervention Forces (OMON) prevented Strelkov from giving a lecture in a bookshop in Saint Petersburg, claiming that the premises had been undermined. The officer managed to deliver his lecture (dedicated to Wagner and Prigozhin) in another place.
Strelkov later called Prigozhin “sadistic” and “psychopathic, but “clever” and “assisted by demons”. In his opinion, the so-called Kremlin cook does not fit into the political framework of Russia, but with the consent of the authorities he managed to avoid responsibility for the destruction of helicopters and planes during the June 24 riots. “What worries me is that he was not punished in any way,” he said, referring to Prigozhin.
Strelkov has criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accusing him of breaking his pact with his colleague Vladimir Putin by allowing the leaders of Ukraine’s Azov battalion, exiled to Turkey after the Russian occupation of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, to return to Kiev.
To win in Ukraine today, according to Strelkov, “patriotism is hardly on the rise; It’s not enough for people to save every penny to give the military what the Department of Defense isn’t and has no intention of giving them.” The soldier calls on the Russians to unite in the name of victory and rejects “compromises” in the quest for peace.
In particular, Strelkov comments on his Telegram channel on Russian politics and the course of the war against Ukraine, and he does so with harsh and blunt judgments. During his tenure as Defense Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic (May-August 2014), Strelkov-Girkin repeatedly clashed with local insurgent leaders in Donbass, for whom he was too harsh and dogmatic.
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