The ‘taboo’ of criticizing Putin has been ‘significantly weakened’, which is why a prominent pro-war blogger has trashed it, according to British reports

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks out of a helicopter window in Russia on July 20, 2023.

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks out of a helicopter window in Russia on July 20, 2023.Sputnik/Alexander Kazakov/Kremlin via REUTERS

  • A pro-war Russian ultra-nationalist has been arrested for criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • Britain’s Ministry of Defense said it made the comments as the “taboo” around criticizing Putin was weakened.

  • He credited the Wagner Group Uprising for the change.

The “taboo” of criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin has been weakened in a development that likely led a prominent pro-war blogger to decide to call him out, according to British intelligence.

Ivor Girkin, a Russian ultra-nationalist, was arrested on Friday on charges of extremism after calling Putin a “cowardly mediocrity”.

Girkin, a pro-war, former FSB security guard who goes by the nom de guerre Stelkov, which means shooter in Russian, was detained in his apartment. 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.

The British Ministry of Defense said in an intelligence update on Saturday that he probably only felt able to do so because the landscape of Russia had changed since the leader of the Russian mercenary group Wagner who joined the Russian invasion of Ukraine staged an uprising last month.

He said: “Although Girkin is not an ally of the Wagner Group, he was probably only prepared to push the boundaries of public criticism in the context of the aborted mutiny of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in June 2023.”

“The taboo against unmasked criticism of Putin’s regime has weakened significantly.”

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

Igor Girkin, detained on Friday and accused of extremism, sits inside a glass cage for defendants during a hearing to consider a request for his provisional arrest in Moscow on July 21, 2023.Photo by ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The Wagner Group took over a Russian military headquarters in a key city and began marching on Moscow last month before the situation was defused with a peace deal that involved the exile of its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

It came after months of bickering between Prigozhin and the Russian Defense Ministry, with Prigozhin criticizing his performance in Ukraine and accusing him of starving his men of ammunition to extinguish his group.

Girkin, like many other Russian war bloggers, criticized Russia’s military performance in Ukraine.

Russia expected to quickly occupy its neighbor when it launched its invasion in February 2022, but was forced into a series of humiliating retreats and has made no significant territory gains for months as it haemorrhaged troops and equipment.

But Girkin’s criticisms seemed to get tougher after the Wager Group mini-mutiny and included criticism of Putin, saying that if he couldn’t win in Ukraine, “he had to transfer his powers legally,” reported Insider’s Erin Snodgrass.

His message on Telegram that “the country will not survive another 6 years of this cowardly mediocrity in power” was published three days before his arrest.

Britain’s MoD noted that Girkin had “long been a critic” of Russia’s military performance but in recent days his comments had morphed into criticism of Putin himself.

War bloggers like Girkin are a source of news and opinion on the invasion of Russia, and their content can be both influential and indicative of national moods about the war.

Girkin himself has military experience, including leading a group of Russian militants in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.

His arrest “is likely to infuriate other members of the mil-blogging community … who widely view Girkin as a military analyst and astute patriot,” Britain’s MOD said.

He said in a 2016 interview with The Guardian that he was an “inconvenient figure” for the Kremlin.

“They don’t know what to do with me: am I a hero or a terrorist?” he said. “They cannot arrest me and imprison me because it would be considered bowing to the West to call me a terrorist.”

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