Pro-war Russian nationalist Igor Girkin has launched a long-shot presidential bid from behind bars at a pre-trial detention center, in an announcement blasting Vladimir Putin as “extremely gullible.”
In a statement posted on Telegram on Thursday, Girkin — who goes by the nom de guerre Strelkov (“Shooter”) — listed six reasons why he’s a better candidate than Putin, the longtime Russian ruler who is waging a brutal war on neighboring Ukraine.
Girkin, 52, gained notoriety in 2014 when he led troops into eastern Ukraine and briefly became the breakaway Donetsk region’s defense minister. He was convicted in absentia of murder by a Dutch court over his role in shooting down a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet, which killed 298 people.
After the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, he reinvented himself as a critic of Russian military strategy in Ukraine, claiming he could do it better.
Announcing his intention to run in Russia’s presidential election in March 2024 — Girkin said he was a better military strategist than Putin, has no ties and thus no obligations to any of the Russian oligarch clans, and never trusted the West, unlike the Russian ruler. He also promised to unleash a crackdown against corruption in the Russian defense sector which he thinks is the main reason for the stalled military campaign in Ukraine.
“Putin is too kind. Soon after the special military operation in Ukraine began, he was able to understand that not only respected Western and Kyiv partners, but also the leaders of our law enforcement agencies, intelligence, and the military-industrial complex deceived him,” Girkin wrote. “It turned out (Russia) was not ready for war, and the so-called Ukraine is not at all a dummy in military terms,” he continued. “Yet the heads of Russian military and law enforcement remained in their places and continued to surprise us with their incompetence. I’m not at all so kind, which I can prove in practice.”
He also promised not to stay in power for as long as Putin — who was first elected president in 2000 — if elected.
“I’m not as athletic and healthy as Vladimir Vladimirovich was at my age, so I won’t be able to bother you, dear voters, purely physically for more than 20 years, even if I suddenly have a desire to mess with you after the military crisis and its most severe consequences,” Girkin wrote.
There’s just one problem: Girkin is behind bars in a Russian pre-trial detention center until at least September 18. He was arrested in July on extremism charges after two Telegram posts criticizing and even mocking Putin. Girkin has denied wrongdoing and refused to cooperate with the investigation. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison and would, according to Russian law, not be allowed to run for the presidency.
Girkin has asked the court to place him under house arrest, claiming he has health problems and doesn’t pose a flight risk as he is on Interpol’s wanted list and faces life in prison if caught outside Russia. The court refused.