July 26, 2023

Repression Targets Pro-War "Patriots"


Repression Targets Pro-War "Patriots"
Igor Strelkov on personality identification playing cards.
Pryshutova Viktoria, Wikimedia Commons

On July 22, Igor Strelkov, former defense minister of the Russia-backed Donetsk People’s Republic, was arrested in Moscow.

Strelkov, who has been critical of Russian leaders for their perceived lack of commitment to a full-scale war in Ukraine, was charged with inciting extremist activities, which could result in up to five years in prison.

The FSB opened the case against Strelkov on July 18, reviewing posts on his Telegram channel dating back to May 25. In those posts, Strelkov reported that soldiers mobilized from the 105th and 107th regiments of the Russian army were not receiving proper payments and said that those responsible for the situation should be executed.

On the same day the case was initiated, Strelkov wrote a post about Russian president Vladimir Putin, calling him a "nonentity" and a "cowardly incompetent." He expressed doubt that the country would survive another six years under his rule.

"Igor Strelkov" is actually an alias for Igor Girkin. In the past, Girkin worked for the far-right newspaper Zavtra ("Tomorrow") and later joined Russian-backed separatists in Transnistria, Moldova, and Serbia. The pro-war activist is accused of partaking in the Višegrad massacre, in which thousands of Bosnian civilians were killed and raped.

Until 2013, Strelkov served in the FSB, fighting in the North Caucasus as part of FSB special forces units and rising to the rank of colonel. In 2014, he participated in the annexation of Crimea and the fighting in Eastern Ukraine.

Strelkov has said that he and his people were the trigger for the war in Donbas. A Dutch court convicted him in absentia for shooting down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) in 2014. Afterward, he was dismissed as defense minister of the Russia-backed separatist Donetsk People’s Republic.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Strelkov attempted to return to the front lines but ultimately focused on media and political activities. He gained popularity through his Telegram channel, which has 860,000 subscribers, where he criticizes the war from ultra-right and pro-military perspectives. 

In 2023, Strelkov, alongside the former self-proclaimed "People's Governor" of the Donetsk Region, established the "Club of Angry Patriots," a small organization with branches in Moscow and St. Petersburg. This group claimed that Russia was heading toward crisis and turmoil, and it criticized authorities for their "inadequate" efforts in the war with Ukraine. During a conference organized by the Club, Strelkov called on Vladimir Putin to step down from his position as President.

These outspoken statements seem to have drawn attention from authorities. In June, the St. Petersburg police evacuated the ultra-right Listva ("Leaf") Library on the day when Igor Strelkov was scheduled to speak. Additionally, on July 18, an indictment was drawn up against Vladimir Kvachkov, a former military police colonel and Strelkov’s associate in the Club of Angry Patriots, accusing him of discrediting the Russian army.

The article of the Russian Criminal Code under which Strelkov was arrested has been used previously to target anti-war Russian activists.

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