MOSCOW (AP) — A Moscow court has ruled that a prominent hard-line nationalist who accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of weakness and indecision in Ukraine should remain in prison on charges of extremism.
Igor Strelkov, a retired security officer who led Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and was convicted of murder in the Netherlands for his role in the downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet that year, has argued that a total mobilization is needed for Russia to achieve victory. He has previously criticized Putin as a “nonentity” and a “cowardly mediocrity.”
Moscow’s District Court ordered the 52-year-old Strelkov, whose real name is Igor Girkin, to remain in custody until Sept. 18. Strelkov was arrested July 21 and faces charges of making calls for extremist activities. He could receive five years in prison if convicted.
Strelkov’s legal team had argued for him to be held under house arrest, citing health issues.
Strelkov’s wife, Miroslava Reginskaya, speaking after the ruling, said, “the court decision is unfair and we will appeal.”
Strelkov’s arrest has been interpreted as a signal that the Kremlin has toughened its approach with hawkish critics after the abortive rebellion by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenary company in June.
Strelkov was arrested nearly a month after a short-lived mutiny launched by Prigozhin that saw Wagner troops capture military headquarters in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don and then drive as close as 200 kilometers (125 miles) to Moscow to demand the ouster of Russia’s top military leaders.
Prigozhin was killed Aug. 23 when the plane he was traveling in crashed. US intelligence has said the crash was likely intentional and multiple Western leaders have suggested Putin was behind it.
The revolt posed the most serious threat to Putin’s 23-year rule, eroding his authority and exposing government weakness.
Like Prigozhin, Strelkov harshly criticized Russia’s military leaders for incompetence, but he also denounced the Wagner chief and described his action as treason and a major threat to the Russian state. The two repeatedly had traded insults, and Strelkov’s supporters said a criminal inquiry into his statements has been initiated by one of Wagner’s mercenaries.