The Arrest of Mil-Blogger Igor Girkin and Rising Tensions in Russian Military
Putin Critic Seized By Russian Authorities
The recent arrest of military blogger and ex-Russian commander, Igor Girkin, is anticipated to stoke fury among Russian troops engaged in the conflict in Ukraine, as per the reports from British defense officials on Saturday. This news illustrates the escalating tensions within the Russian military and a possibly shifting political landscape in the Kremlin.
Early on Friday, July 21, officers from Russia's Investigative Committee, a body dedicated to investigating severe crimes, arrested Girkin at his residence in Moscow. Following a court appearance in the afternoon, Girkin was remanded into custody at a pre-trial detention facility until September 18, facing charges of inciting extremism.
Formerly an officer of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Girkin, also known under the pseudonym Igor Ivanovich Strelkov, contributed to Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. He has been vocal about his support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine initiated in February 2022. Simultaneously, Girkin has been openly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian military's execution of the operation, stirring questions about his freedom to critique Kremlin's actions in Ukraine without facing extensive jail terms.
Girkin has amassed a large follower base on the social media platform Telegram, where he frequently shared videos and messages criticizing the Russian military command. The United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense (MOD) speculated in a recent Twitter intelligence update that his arrest is likely to anger the 'mil-blogger' community and sections of the active military who perceive Girkin as a keen military analyst and patriot.
While Girkin has no alliances with the Wagner Group or its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, he was reportedly willing to push the boundaries of public criticism concerning the failed rebellion attempted by the group last month, as per the UK's MOD analysis. The botched coup, intended to topple Russia's military establishment, led to Prigozhin calling off the rebellion. According to British defense officials, the arrest of Girkin indicates a considerable weakening of the taboo against open criticism of the Putin regime.
While Russian newspaper RBC reported that a former member of the Wagner Group had requested Girkin's arrest, this claim has not been verified yet.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a U.S.-based think tank, suggested in a Friday assessment that Girkin's arrest was likely a move by the Putin administration to clamp down on Russian ultranationalists in the wake of the unsuccessful Wagner rebellion. The ISW cited a leaked document from Russian security services ordering authorities to take repressive measures against extremist individuals, explicitly mentioning 'Strelkov.'
Girkin's arrest, alongside other ultranationalists with connections to Russian security services, indicates a potential targeting of high-profile ultranationalists who routinely leak insider information about the Kremlin. This development could signal an attempt to control information and dissent within the Russian military, further underlining the existing tensions and challenges within the Russian establishment.