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Russian outspoken critic of Putin and commander Strelkov detained in Moscow

Outspoken pro-war blogger Igor Girkin, who has been sharply critical of Russia’s military strategy in Ukraine, has been arrested by a court in Moscow on charges of extremism.

The hardline nationalist, also known as Igor Strelkov, faces up to five years in prison.

His wife said he was detained on Friday at their Moscow apartment when she was not at home.

Strelkov, a former FSB intelligence colonel, played a key role in Russia’s takeover of Crimea in 2014.

He led Russia’s proxy army in the ensuing war in eastern Ukraine.

Igor Strelkov was one of three people convicted in absentia by a Dutch court last November of murder for taking part in a 2014 missile strike that downed a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane over a conflict zone, killing all 298 people on board.

But as last year’s full-scale invasion faltered, Strelkov’s criticism of military failures and the commander-in-chief, President Vladimir Putin, grew louder.

“We have already lost,” he told followers on social media last year.

A few days ago, he called the Kremlin leader a “nothing” and “a cowardly waste of time,” says BBC Russia Editor Steve Rosenberg.

Strelkov’s lawyer Alexander Molokhov said that after the arrest, his apartment was searched.

Later, Strelkov appeared in the Meshchansky District Court in the north-east of the capital, where the judge rejected his request for a closed hearing, RIA Novosti reported. He will now remain in pre-trial detention until at least September 18.

The military blogger has long had complete freedom to criticize the president and the military, so it is unclear what prompted the Russian Investigative Committee to charge him with using the Internet to call for “extremist activity.”

Since the beginning of the war, opponents of Russia’s so-called special military operation in Ukraine have been sentenced to long prison terms for much milder remarks.

But earlier this week, retired Russian intelligence officer Vladimir Kvachkov was accused of “discrediting” the Russian military. He and Strelkov created the Angry Patriots Club, broadcasting live their criticism of Russia’s political and military leadership.

For years, Strelkov, 53, was considered untouchable, BBC Russian correspondent Ilya Barabanov says.

This was partly due to his previous position as a colonel in the FSB security service, and also because he was identified as a suspect and later convicted of downing flight MH-17 while he was commander of Russian proxy forces in occupied Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

The Russian investigative website Agency has suggested that the authorities have revisited a previously unspoken rule allowing pro-war bloggers to express their anger as much as they like.

Commentator Tatyana Stanovaya said it was a moment that many  security officials  , the president’s inner circle, were looking forward to.

According to her, Strelkov “crossed all conceivable boundaries” long ago  , but the failure of hired boss Yevgeny Prigozhin provided the army command with more leverage to suppress their opponents.

The powers of Prigozhin’s Wagner group have been curtailed since last month’s failed mutiny, and the military commander himself refrains from his former full-blown tirades against the defense minister and army commander.

This week, he appeared in a video apparently filmed in Belarus, greeting his fighters and saying that the Russian campaign in Ukraine was “a disgrace that we don’t want to be a part of.”

Of the approximately 25,000 Wagner mercenaries, 10,000 are reportedly heading to Belarus, with the rest going on “vacation”. One independent report stated that Vladimir Putin had made the final decision to end Wagner’s existence in Russia itself.

Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate hailed Strelkov’s arrest as a sign that “an active phase of internal confrontation” is approaching within the Kremlin.

Source: BBC