Russian nationalist convicted of downing MH17 wants to fight in Ukraine

Igor Girkin - Russian nationalist convicted of downing MH17 wants to fight in Ukraine
Igor Girkin needs an appeal court to throw out his sentence or Putin to personally pardon him if he is to get his wish and fight in Ukraine - AFP/Natalia Kolesnikova

The imprisoned Russian nationalist who played a leading role in bringing down the Malaysian airlines flight MH17 wants to join the front line in Ukraine.

The wife of Igor ‘Strelkov’ Girkin, a former officer in Russia’s FSB who helped illegally annex Crimea, has said her husband is hoping to clear his criminal record by fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The 54-year-old former warlord turned military blogger was jailed for four years in January for “inciting extremism” after criticising Vladimir Putin’s handling of the war against Ukraine.

Under a new recruitment rule signed by the Russian president last month, individuals convicted of “extremism” and other serious crimes are barred from military service.

His wife, Miroslava Reginskaya, said a unit in the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic intended to have him serve as a platoon commander.

She said: “When a country is going through a severe military conflict, it is a crime not to let an officer and a patriot with unique experience and knowledge in the military to the front line.

“But it was precisely this critical mistake that the authorities made by sending Igor Strelkov to prison on political charges of extremism.”

Miroslava Reginskaya
Miroslava Reginskaya, wife of Igor Girkin, says 'it's a crime to not let a patriot fight on the front line' - AFP/Natalia Kolenikova

Girkin’s lawyer, Alexander Molokhov, told the RBC news website that there could be a “legal opportunity” to escape the ban if an appeal court throws out his sentence or if Putin personally pardons him.

His next appeal court hearing is scheduled for May 15.

Girkin fought as a foreign volunteer in wars in Transnistria and Bosnia in the 1990s before joining the FSB, Russia’s domestic security service.

He was accused of being involved in the disappearance of several Chechen men during the second Chechen War.

In 2014, Girkin claimed credit for “pulling the trigger” on the war in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas, when he and a group of Russian volunteers seized control of the Donetsk region town of Slavyansk.

He later appointed himself “defence minister” of the Donetsk People Republic of pro-Russian separatists.

In November last year, a Dutch court sentenced him to life in prison in absentia for the murders of 298 on board MH17, a Malaysian airlines flight between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur that was downed by a Russian Buk missile launcher over eastern Ukraine in July 2014.

Girkin eventually fell out of favour with the Kremlin and returned to Moscow, where he founded a short-lived nationalist political movement aimed at overthrowing Putin, before turning his hand to blogging.