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Russian authorities accuse nationalist blogger, former separatist commander of extremism

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Russian authorities have initiated an extremism case against Igor Girkin, a former separatist commander and well-known nationalist military blogger. The individual, also recognized by his alias Igor Strelkov, had been an outspoken critic of Russia’s leadership.

Girkin, who has a large following of around 875,000 people on the messaging app Telegram, had expressed his support for the military offensive in Ukraine but was not hesitant in voicing his criticisms of its execution. However, the latest action by the authorities indicates that any form of criticism, even from supporters of the military operation, will not be tolerated, particularly following the recent brief rebellion of the Wagner mercenary group.

During a court appearance in Moscow, Girkin was seen confined in a glass cage, while peaceful gatherings of numerous supporters were observed. Initially, news of his detention for extremism surfaced through a message on social media from Girkin’s wife, Miroslava Reginskaya, and later the court documents confirmed the charges.

The charges brought against Girkin are related to “public calls for extremism,” which could lead to a maximum imprisonment of five years. His background reveals he was a former military commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic and played a prominent role in the pro-Kremlin insurgency during the conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The situation escalated further when, in 2022, a Dutch court sentenced Girkin, along with two other individuals, to life imprisonment for their involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014.

In recent times, Girkin has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin and, more notably, of the conduct of Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine.

One of Girkin’s recent Telegram posts demanded a transfer of power to a successor, expressing disapproval of the current leadership. This and other outspoken critiques have led some analysts to remark that he has “crossed all possible red lines.”

His detention comes in the aftermath of an attempted mutiny by the Wagner mercenary group, which visibly weakened the Kremlin. The group’s leader, Prigozhin, had been critical of the invasion’s failures and the strategies employed by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and army chief Valery Gerasimov. While Girkin denounced the mutiny, he continued to criticize the competence of Russia’s conventional military commanders.

Political analysts believe that Girkin’s case is a consequence of Prigozhin’s rebellion, granting the Russian army more political leverage to suppress its opponents in the public sphere. Although mass arrests are not expected, experts suggest that the most radical critics could face prosecution, leading others to be more cautious in their dissent.

It is important to note that criticism of Russia’s actions in Ukraine has been outlawed, and key liberal opposition figures have either been imprisoned or forced into exile. This recent case against Girkin adds to the concerns over the shrinking space for dissent and free expression in the country.

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