January 25, 2024

Putin critic, convicted over downing of MH17, jailed in Russia for extremism

By Rob Harris
January 26, 2024 — 1.45am
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London: Igor Girkin, who was convicted in absentia for his role in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 a decade ago, has been sentenced to four years in a penal colony after a Moscow court found him guilty of extremism charges.

The prominent Russian pro-war blogger, also known under his pseudonym “Strelkov”, accused President Vladimir Putin and the army top brass of not pursuing the Ukraine war effectively enough and had also publicly entertained ideas about running against Putin in an upcoming presidential election.

Igor Girkin also know as Igor Strelkov, sits in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow’s City Court.Credit: AP

Girkin, a 53-year-old former colonel from the Russian spy service, was arrested last year after setting up the “Club of Angry Patriots” to save Russia from what he said was the danger of systemic turmoil due to military failures in Ukraine and jostling in the elite to eventually succeed Putin.

In one of his most outspoken tirades, in a post on July 18 on his official Telegram channel, followed by more than 760,000 people, Girkin peppered Putin with personal insults and urged him to pass power “to someone truly capable and responsible”.

According to SOTA, a Russian independent news outlet, Girkin defended his posts in court as emotional, nonliteral expressions – without admitting any guilt.

These posts, however, did not comprise Girkin’s most severe critiques of Putin and the Kremlin. He labelled Putin as the “Supreme Non-Commander-in-Chief,” referred to Russian generals as “clowns,” and officials as “idiots.”

Supporters of Igor Girkin gather outside the Moscow’s City Court.Credit: AP

Girkin helped Russia to annex Crimea in 2014 and, soon after, to organise pro-Russian militias who wrested part of eastern Ukraine out of Kyiv’s control – events that started Russia’s war on Ukraine. He briefly served as defence minister in the Donetsk People’s Republic, a Russian puppet state.

Novosti reported as part of his Thursday sentence he was also barred from accessing the internet, a move that essentially shuts off his ability to publicly lambast Putin’s leadership. In pre-trial detention, Girkin announced plans to challenge Putin in the 2024 election — but his candidacy was not registered.


Following the verdict, one of Girkin’s supporters shouted “Ukraine has won!”, according to The Moscow Times.

“We consider him a political prisoner … he’s a patriot of his country,” Girkin’s wife Miroslava Reginskaya told reporters outside the court.

Miroslava Reginskaya, wife of Igor Girkin.Credit: AP

In a Telegram post, Girkin’s ally and former Russian intelligence colonel Vladimir Kvachkov called the verdict “a gift” to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Girkin told Russian media outlet Baza last December that he feared of meeting the same fate as Wagner mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died in a plane crash in 2023 after rebelling against Putin.


It was during his time in the DPR that contributed to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, a court in the Netherlands found. All 298 people onboard – including 38 Australians citizens and residents – were killed.

The Dutch court gave him a life sentence for his role in sending a BUK surface-to-air missile system controlled by Russia to a field near the village of Pervomaisky from where it fired on the passenger jet. Russia has been accused of harbouring Girkin.

Also nicknamed “Igor the Terrible”, Girkin fought as a foreign volunteer in wars in Transnistria and Bosnia in the 1990s before joining the FSB. He has been accused of involvement in the disappearance of several Chechen men during the Second Chechen War. His alias, Strelkov, means “shooter” or “rifleman”.

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Rob Harris is Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.Connect via email.


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