Militant convicted over shooting down of MH17 entering Russian politics ‘to save nation’

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Moscow: Pro-war Russian nationalists led by one of the militants convicted over the shooting down of flight MH17 have announced they are entering politics to save Russia.

Igor Girkin warned that Russia was in danger of turmoil or even collapse because of military failures in the Ukraine war.

Igor Girkin, who has been convicted over his role in the shooting down of MH17, has now criticised Russia’s handling of the Ukrainian invasion.Credit: EPA

Nearly 15 months since President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine in what he called “a special military operation”, Moscow says it has still not achieved all of its aims as its forces brace for a Ukrainian counteroffensive backed by the United States and the NATO military alliance.

The Russian nationalist group known as the Club of Angry Patriots said it was entering politics as an opposition party without any formal or informal instruction from the Kremlin but that it saw Putin as the only true guarantor of stability in modern Russia. The group was founded on March 17.

Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and pro-Moscow Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko were each found guilty last November of murder and unlawfully causing the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing 15 crew members and 283 passengers belonging to 17 nationalities, including 38 Australians.

The three, tried in absentia at a high-security court near Amsterdam, were found guilty of arranging and transporting into Ukraine a Russian army BUK missile system that was used to shoot down the plane.

Girkin, a former Federal Security Service officer who helped Russia annex Crimea in 2014 and then helped organise pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine, said the group hoped to prevent the collapse of Russia.

“A systemic crisis is brewing in Russia – or it is already in the grip of crisis – while the temperature of society is rising,” Girkin told Reuters. “We are on the cusp of very grave internal political changes of a catastrophic character.

“All healthy forces need to create organisations which will take part in the political battle which is inevitable – and which has already started,” he said.

In Putin’s Russia, fiercely nationalist politicians and bloggers have since the war began increasingly taken on the role of critics of the military top brass, who they say are failing due to incompetence, corruption and even treachery.

The MH17 crash site in 2014 near the village of Grabovo, Ukraine.Credit: AP

The Kremlin did not comment on Girkin’s move. Putin, who is widely expected to run in the 2024 presidential election, says the special military operation will achieve all of its aims.

When asked if he was naive to think he could announce such a political movement in Putin’s Russia without the assent of the Kremlin, Girkin, 52, said: “I do hope you would not call me a naive person.”

He told reporters it was clear that the battle for the post-Putin era had already begun inside the Russian elite.

“No matter how critical I am of Putin, Putin is currently the only legitimate figure in the Russian Federation,” he said. If Putin were dislodged from power “it would mean the collapse of Russia”, he said.

Girkin, who does not recognise Ukraine as a sovereign state and says much of it is part of Russia, said Russia would face defeat in the war unless it sacked top commanders, thieves and incompetents and began to fight in a much more serious way.

“If the current situation continues, then we will be defeated in this war,” he said, adding that victory for Russia would only be achieved if Ukrainian statehood was liquidated and cities including Kyiv were controlled by Russia.

Echoing Putin’s own framing of the war, Girkin said the West wanted to destroy Russia and trigger a coup to bring to power Western-backed politicians who would pillage Russia’s natural resources and destroy Russian Slav culture.

“There will be no compromise: war will end with the Russian flag over Kyiv or the defeat of Russia with the aim of its partial occupation, its disarming and its de-sovereignisation.”

He said the group had little money and no major financial sponsors and had been forced to scrabble together enough money for the announcement, which was made under tight security in a Soviet-era Moscow hotel built for the 1980 Olympics.

The group’s other leaders include chairman Pavel Gubarev, a pro-Russian fighter from eastern Ukraine; Yuri Yevich, a military doctor; and Mikhail Aksel, a former member of the late Eduard Limonov’s Other Russia movement.

“Our task is either to help our country avoid the turmoil that is approaching or to create those positions on which we will act in that turmoil to prevent the destruction of Russia as a state and as a unique civilisation,” Girkin said.


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