Russian ultra-nationalist who got away with criticizing the Kremlin for years is arrested after calling Putin a ‘cowardly mediocrity’

Igor Girkin stands with his arms folded inside a defendant's cage.

Igor Girkin (Strelkov), the former top military commander of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and nationalist blogger, detained earlier on Friday and charged with extremism, sits inside a glass cage for defendants during a hearing to consider a request for provisional arrest in Moscow July 21, 2023.Photo by ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

  • A prominent Russian war blogger was arrested on Friday after months of criticism of Putin.

  • Igor Girkin, a former FSB agent, had long flouted Russian laws banning wartime criticism.

  • But the pro-war blogger was arrested this week after calling Putin a “cowardly mediocrity”.

A prominent Russian ultra-nationalist who has long ignored the consequences of his criticism of the Kremlin was arrested this week after apparently taking his criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin too far this time.

Igor Girkin, a pro-war, former FSB security guard who goes by the nom de guerre Stelkov, which means shooter in Russian, was arrested Friday in his apartment for extremism. Girkin’s wife posted news of her husband’s arrest in a Telegram message to her nearly 900,000 subscribers before Russian state media confirmed his detention.

But for all his criticism of the conflict in Ukraine, Girkin is staunchly pro-war, suggesting that Putin and his generals have not gone far enough and calling for the full mobilization of the Russian population.

Girkin’s arrest signals a Kremlin crackdown on vocal criticism of Russia’s war effort in Ukraine a month after Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin staged a short-lived mutiny that posed the gravest threat to Putin’s power in more than two decades.

For months, Girkin and other wartime figures like him have been allowed to lambast the Russian government and military on Telegram, the social media platform the Kremlin has yet to suppress, in rants and raves that flout the country’s ultra-strict laws banning wartime criticism.

The high-profile war blogger, who once led a group of Russian activists in Donetsk, said in an April YouTube video that Russia was heading “toward military defeat” and accused Russian media of ignoring the war’s negative impacts on Russia.

In recent months, these bloggers have focused on what they see as the incompetence of Russian generals, oligarchs and, after Wagner’s failed coup, even Putin himself.

Girkin’s vitriol towards Putin seemed to intensify even more in the aftermath of Wagner’s rebellion. In a June 25 Telegram post, Girkin suggested that if Putin can’t win in Ukraine, “he must legally transfer his powers.”

Girkin’s arrest on Friday comes three days after Girkin made his boldest denunciation of Putin to date, saying “the country will not survive another 6 years of this cowardly mediocrity in power,” in a Telegram article.

In court on Friday, Girkin was charged with making “public calls to carry out extremist activity on the internet”, the Financial Times reported. He has been detained until mid-September as part of an ongoing investigation and faces up to five years in prison, according to the outlet.

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