Igor Girkin, a former Russian intelligence operative who often goes under the pseudonym Strelkov, has repeatedly taken credit for having participated in the Russian takeover of the Crimean parliament in late February 2014 and organizing Russian forces to instigate secessionist rebellions the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The goal, he said, was to create a self-styled Novorossiya, which would have included Kharkiv and Odesa.

Girkin, 54, was also found guilty in November 2022, with two other men, of the July 2014 shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, in which 298 passengers and crew died. A Dutch court sentenced him in absentia to life imprisonment in his absence.

Girkin was arrested in July 2023 after repeatedly voicing public criticism, of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and his military commanders, for what he termed as incompetence in the running of the war against Ukraine. In January, he was sentenced to four years in prison for “incitement of extremism.”

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His lawyer Alexander Molokhov announced on Wednesday, April 10 that Girkin was requesting to be released from prison so that he could go fight for Russia in its so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine, according to a report by the Russian online news site Pravda.RU .

In support of his application, his wife, Miroslava Reginskaya, said an unnamed military unit in the self-proclaimed DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic] had approved her husband’s request to serve as a platoon commander on Jan. 26 and published a redacted image of the letter of acceptance.

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The letter offering Girkin military service

Under current legislation, Girkin’s conviction for extremism prevents him from signing a contract with Russia’s defense ministry. His lawyers seem to think that, as they see it, a former officer of the Federal Security Service (FSB) – who played key role in the illegal annexation of Crimea, was a DNR defense minister, and is still officially a colonel in Russia’s reserve with combat experience –  has a strong case for release and reinstatement.

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His wife certainly supports that view and says: “When the country is going through a difficult military conflict, it is a crime not to let an officer, a patriot who has unique military experience and knowledge go to the front.”

She also said the Russian authorities had convicted her husband on “political charges,” adding that at his trial he had said he would serve the Fatherland and would never go back on that.

An appeal hearing is scheduled for May 15, at which it is likely the lawyers will seek to set Girkin’s extremism conviction aside and release him to serve.

The likelihood of Girkin being allowed to return to the battlefield and expunge his criminal record was not immediately clear.

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