|“||I absolutely do not worry about international law, because it is a tool at the hands of victors. If we are defeated, then it means that the norms of the law will be used against me.||„|
|~ Igor Strelkov|
Igor Ivanovich Strelkov, born Igor Vsevolodovich Girkin (Russian: И́горь Ива́нович Стрелко́в, IPA: [ˈiɡərʲ ɪˈvanəvʲɪtɕ strʲɪlˈkof], Russian: И́горь Все́володович Ги́ркин, born on 17 December 1970) is a Russian army artillery veteran who played a key role in the Annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and later the War in Donbass as an organizer of the Donetsk People's Republic's militant groups. Strelkov, a self-described Russian nationalist, was charged by Ukrainian authorities with terrorism. He is currently sanctioned by the European Union for his leading role in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities have called him a retired colonel of the GRU (Russia's external military intelligence organisation).
According to different sources, he unreservedly demands that the "liberal clans" (liberal elements of the Russian elite) be destroyed. On 28 May 2016 he formed the Russian National Movement, a political group in favor of "uniting the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belarus, and other Russian lands into a single all-Russian state and transforming the entire territory of the former USSR into an unconditional zone of Russian influence.
On 19 June 2019, Dutch prosecutors charged Strelkov for murder in the MH17 crash and issued an international arrest warrant against him.
Involvement in Ukraine
In an interview on 22 January 2015, Igor Girkin, one of the major "Russian self-defence" commanders in 2014 Crimean crisis, explained that the "overwhelming national support for the self-defence" as portrayed by the Russian media was fiction, and they actually had to "forcibly drive the deputies to vote [to join Russia]". Under his command, the rebels "collected" the deputies into the chambers to vote. A majority of the law enforcement, administration and army did not support the "self-defence" (one notable exception being Berkut) and only the presence of regular Russian army in Crimea "made the whole thing work". Girkin took part in commanding Russian troops in their capture of the Simferopol airport.
According to an accomplice, Girkin arrived in Crimea describing himself as the "Kremlin's emissary," and soon after formed the Crimean self-defense forces. His position was above that of self-declared Crimea prime minister Sergei Aksyonov, and his main task in March 2014 was the accelerated military training for the newly formed Crimean forces, and selecting the best among them for transfer to the invasion of the Donbas. Girkin personally negotiated and oversaw the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Crimea.
According to Girkin, he was in charge of the Simferopol Photogrammatic Center's assault.
Allegations of sabotage and terrorism
On 15 April, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) opened a criminal proceeding against "Igor Strelkov". He was described as a Russian recruiter and leader of armed "saboteurs" and a chief organizer of the "terror" in Ukraine's Sloviansk Raion (including an ambush that killed one and wounded three SBU officers), who had coordinated Russian military takeovers of Ukrainian units in Crimea during the 2014 Crimea crisis in March, after having crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border in Simferopol on 26 February. In Crimea, he was reported to be instrumental in negotiating the defection of the Ukrainian Navy commander Denis Berezovsky. The next day (16 April), he allegedly sought to recruit Ukrainian soldiers captured at the entrance to Kramatorsk.
Allegations of kidnapping, torture and murder
Ukrainian government claims Strelkov was behind the 17 April kidnapping, torture and murder of a local Ukrainian politician Volodymyr Rybak and a 19-year-old college student Yury Popravko. Rybak's abduction by a group of men in Horlivka was recorded on camera. The SBU released portions of intercepted calls in which another Russian citizen, alleged GRU officer and Girkin's subordinate Igor Bezler orders Rybak to be "neutralized", and a subsequent conversation in which "Strelkov" is heard instructing Ponomarev to dispose of Rybak's body, which is "lying here [in the basement of the separatist headquarters in Sloviansk] and beginning to smell."] Rybak's corpse with a smashed head, multiple stab wounds and ripped stomach was found later in April in a river near Sloviansk; Popravko's body was also found nearby. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov described Girkin as "a monster and a killer" and the incident helped prompt the government's "anti-terrorist" military offensive against the pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine.
Dismissal as Donetsk People's Republic minister
On 14 August the leadership of the DNR announced that Strelkov was dismissed from his position of defense minister "on his own request" as he was assigned "some other tasks". On 16 August the Russian TV-Zvezda claimed that Strelkov was "on vacation" and was appointed as a military chief of combined forces of Lugansk and Donetsk (he had been in command of Donetsk forces only) and after he returns he will be put to a task of creating an unified command over forces of Federal State of Novorossiya. According to Stanislav Belkovskiy, the main reason for removal of Girkin from the "defense minister" position was the amount of attention caused by downing the MH17 and negative impact on Russia's actions in Ukraine that it caused.
On 22 August a former rebel Anton Raevsky ("Nemetz") said in an interview in Rostov-on-Don that Strelkov and his supporters are being cleansed from DNR by FSB because of this insufficient compliance with Kremlin's policy on the republic.
On 28 August Russian media published photos of Girkin walking with Alexander Dugin and Konstantin Malofeev in Valaam Monastery in northern Russia.
In November 2014 in an interview for "Moscow Speaking" radio said that "the existence of Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics in their current form, with the low-profile but still bloody war, is definitely convenient for USA in the first place, and only for them, because they are the ulcer that divides Russia and Ukraine". Later in November in an interview for "Zavtra" newspaper Girkin stated that the war in Donbass was launched by his detachment despite both Ukrainian government and local combatants avoided an armed confrontation before. Also he recognized himself responsible for actual situation in Donetsk and other cities of the region.
According to the Nemtsov Report Girkin acknowledged that he resigned from his official position in the DNR due to pressure from the Kremlin. He also stated that Vladislav Surkov plays a decisive role in Donbass.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
Multiple sources cited a post on the VKontakte social networking service that was made by an account under Girkin's name which acknowledged shooting down an aircraft at approximately the same time that the civilian airliner Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) was reported to have crashed in eastern Ukraine in the same area near the Russian border on 17 July 2014. The post specifically referenced how warnings were issued for planes not to fly in their airspace and the downing of a Ukrainian military Antonov An-26 transport plane which the Ukraine Crisis Media Center suggested was a case of misidentification with the MH17.This post was deleted later in the day and the account behind it claimed that Girkin has no official account on this social service. Most of the 298 victims in the plane's crash came from the Netherlands; on 19 July the country's biggest newspaper De Telegraaf included Girkin's photo in the front page collage of pro-Russian rebel leaders under the one-word headline "Murderers" ("Moordenaars"). Russian opposition lawyer and politician Mark Feygin posted a purported order by Girkin where he instructs all his men and commanders who "have in their possession personal effects from this plane" to deliver the found items to his HQ so "the valuables (watches, earrings, pendants, and other jewelry and items from valuable metals)" would be transferred to "the Defense Fund of the DPR." Girkin was reported to be the author of an alternative version of the incident, wherein "no living people were aboard the plane as it flew on autopilot from Amsterdam, where it had been pre-loaded with 'rotting corpses'." This conspiracy theory was then distributed and discussed in Russian state-controlled media outlets.
At his press-conference on 28 July 2014, Girkin denied his connection to the downed plane and announced that his militants were killing "black-skinned" mercenaries.
According to ITAR-TASS news agency on Wednesday, 13 August 2014, Girkin was seriously wounded the previous day in fierce fighting in the pro-Russian rebel held territories of Eastern Ukraine, and was described to be in "grave" condition. DNS representative Sergei Kavtaradze refuted this news this shortly after, saying Strelkov is "alive and well".
In July 2015 a writ was filed in an American court by families of 18 victims formally accusing Girkin of 'orchestrating the shootdown'. The writ claimed damages of US$900 million and was brought under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991
On 19 June 2019, the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT), investigating the shooting down of MH17, officially announced a criminal case against Strelkov. The court proceedings were scheduled to start on 9 March 2020 before the District Court of The Hague, at the Schiphol Judicial Complex The JIT said it would ask Russia to extradite the suspects who are currently on Russian soil, saying: "The criminal trial will take place even if the suspects choose not to appear in court." Interfax news agency quoted Strelkov as saying: "I do not give any comments. The only thing I can say is the rebels did not shoot down the Boeing."