Russian prosecutors on Thursday requested a nearly five-year prison sentence for former separatist commander Igor Girkin, a sharp critic of President Vladimir Putin, arrested and detained last year on "extremism" charges.

Girkin, who also goes by the pseudonym "Strelkov", was instrumental in fomenting the conflict between Kremlin-backed militias and Kyiv's armed forces in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

But the hardline nationalist was arrested after months of public attacks on Russia's military leaders and Putin, as he called for a much more aggressive offensive against Ukraine.

"The prosecutor requested four years and 11 months in a general regime prison colony for Igor Strelkov," his allies said on social media.

"This is one month less than the maximum possible punishment under the article he is charged with," they added after the behind-closed-doors hearing.


In some of his final social media posts before being arrested, Girkin had called Putin an "old idiot", adding that "the country will not survive another six years of this cowardly mediocrity in power".

For months the authorities tolerated his sharp criticism, posted daily on social media in hours-long video blogs, even as the Kremlin's liberal opponents were handed severe jail terms for opposing the campaign in Ukraine.

- Rebel turned blogger -

But the mood in Moscow changed after Wagner commander Yevgeny Prigozhin and hundreds of his troops launched an abortive mutiny last June to oust Russia's military leadership.

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Girkin's arrest was a high-profile demonstration that Russia was reining in the nationalist critics.

Behind bars in pre-trial detention, he mounted a doomed campaign to run against Vladimir Putin in March's presidential elections, doubling down on his anti-Kremlin position.

In an interview with Russian media from jail he said the country had "entered a period of acute instability" and faced an "imminent catastrophe".

Girkin, 53, was a key figure behind Moscow's initial military foray into Ukraine in 2014.


Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula that year following a pro-European revolution in Kyiv that toppled the country's Moscow-friendly president.

Girkin, a former FSB officer, formed and commanded Moscow-backed forces in the eastern Donbas region.

He marshalled troops out of a base in the captured city of Sloviansk, where he reportedly ordered executions for minor crimes such as petty theft.

- Role in MH17 downing -

A court in the Netherlands last year sentenced him to life imprisonment in absentia for the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines plane MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014.

All 298 people on board were killed when a missile fired from rebel-held territory hit the jet. The Kremlin has always denied its involvement and refused to extradite Girkin to the Netherlands.

"In the West, I have already been recognised as a terrorist... and in my homeland, I have the dubious notoriety as an extremist," he said after his arrest.

He left eastern Ukraine shortly after MH17 was downed, becoming a ultra-nationalist blogger and backer of the hardline "Novorossiya" ideology that calls for Russia to subsume vast swathes of Ukraine.

When Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, 2022 he said the entire country needed to be captured in a "swift and decisive victory".


But within days he had become disillusioned with what he called Russia's "major mistakes" and turned into a persistent critic of how Moscow was prosecuting the offensive.

He wanted Russia's entire political system to be put on a hardened military footing and for significantly more men and resources to be thrown at the campaign.

Girkin's lawyer told Russia's state-run RIA Novosti agency that the court would issue its verdict on January 25.

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