Putin critic Girkin wants to stand in the Russian presidential election
A vocal advocate for war, who has vehemently criticized Russia’s military tactics in Ukraine, now expresses his intention to challenge Vladimir Putin in the upcoming presidential elections in March.
Igor Girkin, aged 52, previously led pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine in 2014 following the annexation of Crimea by Moscow. Currently awaiting trial for extremism, a charge he denies, Girkin aims to contest what he deems a predetermined and deceptive electoral process.
In a letter posted on Telegram last Sunday addressed to his supporters, Girkin, also known by his alias Strelkov, acknowledged the challenging political landscape in Russia, likening participation in the presidential campaign to engaging in a game with predetermined outcomes.
Despite this, he aspires to rally patriotic forces to disrupt the Kremlin’s electoral plans, where, according to him, the eventual victor is already established.
“This is our chance to unite in the face of external and internal threats,” he said.
He told his supporters to set up a headquarters for his campaign, and to start collecting signatures for his candidacy, even though he knew he would not be allowed to stand.
Supporters of Girkin told Reuters that his criminal investigation had been extended until 18 December and that he could theoretically take part in the polls as he has not been convicted yet.
Girkin is a former FSB intelligence colonel. He was one of three men convicted in absentia by a Dutch court last November of murder for his role in the 2014 shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet with the loss of all 298 people on board.
After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, he gained prominence by mocking Russian tactics and repeatedly warned that Russia faced revolution and even civil war unless President Putin’s military top brass fought the war in Ukraine more effectively.
He was arrested in July. If convicted of extremism he could face up to five years in jail.
Russian authorities have cracked down on nationalist critics who have called for a much tougher approach to fighting the war in Ukraine, after the failed mutiny by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in June.
Prigozhin was killed in August in a plane crash, the causes of which are still unclear.
President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview published on Friday that he hoped his boss would stand for another term.
He first served as president from 2000 to 2008, returning to the role from a stint as prime minister in 2012. Recent amendments to the Russian constitution allow him to stay in power until at least 2036 if he is elected again.