Russia upholds detention of former separatist commander

MOSCOW (AFP): A Russian court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by former separatist commander in Ukraine and nationalist blogger Igor Girkin to be freed from pre-trial detention in Moscow.

Girkin, a high-profile critic of the Kremlin’s military strategy in Ukraine, was detained in July and remanded in custody on extremism charges. He faces up to five years in prison.

Speaking in Moscow City Court, Judge Yulia Komleva said that the earlier decision of a Moscow court to remand Girkin, 52, in custody would remain unchanged.

At the hearing, Girkin said he had no plans to flee, pointing to a decision of a Dutch court to jail him for life in absentia, and complained of poor health.

In 2022, Girkin was one of three men sentenced by a Dutch court to life imprisonment over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014.

“I have no reason to hide from the court and investigation,” he said.

The hearing came after Yevgeny Prigozhin, a mercenary chief and firebrand critic of Russia’s military leadership, died last week in a plane crash. The Kremlin dismissed claims it was involved.

Russia has detained thousands of protesters who demonstrated against the Kremlin’s decision to initiate large-scale hostilities in Ukraine last year.

But authorities are now also clamping down on hard-line nationalists angry about the Russian military’s strategy in Ukraine.

Those tension spilled over in June when Prigozhin ordered his troops to march on Moscow and unseat Russia’s military leadership.

Girkin — better known by his alias Igor Strelkov — was arrested following a series of posts critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He was a key leader of pro-Russian forces when fighting broke out between separatists and Ukrainian forces in the east of the country in 2014.

Criticism of Russia’s assault on Ukraine has been outlawed and all key liberal opposition figures are either behind bars or in exile.