Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images
Igor Girkin appears in court on Thursday for the sentencing.
Igor Girkin, a popular Russian war blogger who criticized President Vladimir Putin's handling of the war against Ukraine, was found guilty of extremism charges and sentenced to four years in prison by a Moscow court.
The Moscow City Court convicted Girkin, also known by his pseudonym Strelkov, of inciting extremism – a charge he denied.
A former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer and former military commander, Girkin played a crucial role in Russia's annexation of Crimea and the early stages of the invasion of Donbass before becoming a prominent Russian military blogger with over half a million followers, according to Telegram.
Girkin was also closely linked to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in July 2014 and was convicted in absentia of mass murder for his role in the tragedy.
As part of his sentencing on Thursday, he was also banned from accessing the Internet, effectively denying him the ability to publicly denounce Putin's leadership.
Girkin was arrested in July and charged with inciting extremist activity after increasingly criticizing Putin and his military's mishaps in Ukraine.
His imprisonment came weeks after the failed Wagner mercenary uprising in Russia, a time when Putin's grip on power seemed more fragile than ever.
A group of around 100 of his supporters gathered outside the Moscow court on Thursday to show their opposition to his conviction.
Girkin's wife told CNN on Thursday that she hasn't been able to see her husband for six months. “Today I am very worried. To be honest, I have a storm of negative emotions,” she said.
“It seems to me that this is now a demonstrative flogging of everyone and therefore all of Russia’s heroes,” she said. “They are now simply not wanted and will be removed. We hope that we still have justice and that my husband will be released sooner or later and I hope that this happens after the elections because now a purge is underway.”
Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images
Girkin was an influential blogger and critic of Putin.
Girkin is one of Russia's best-known “milbloggers,” a group of war correspondents who support the invasion but are increasingly critical of the military's failing operations in Ukraine and are pushing for tougher action.
He co-founded an ultra-nationalist political group called the Angry Patriots Club last spring and told Portal that Russia was “on the threshold of very serious domestic political changes of a catastrophic nature.”
But just days before his arrest, Girkin intensified his criticism of Putin, calling the president a “nobody” and a “cowardly bum” in a harsh post on his Telegram channel.
“For 23 years, the country was run by an underworlder who managed to 'blow dust into the eyes' of a significant portion of the population. Now it is the last island of legitimacy and stability of the state,” the post says. “But the country will not be able to withstand this cowardly bum in power for another six years.”
Girkin is a former colonel in Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) and served as defense minister in the separatist so-called Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine, a territory captured by pro-Russian forces in 2014.
While in the DPR, he contributed to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, a court in the Netherlands found. All 298 people on board were killed. The court found Girkin guilty of mass murder in 2022 for his involvement in the incident and was sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia.
According to the court, Girkin took part in the conflicts in Chechnya, Transnistria and Bosnia.
This story has been updated with further developments.