Igor Strelkov, Russian military hero of the war in Ukraine, steps out of the shadows to fire salvo at chairman Putin and predict upheaval in Russia
Two years ago, Igor Strelkov was the most notorious personality of the war in east Ukraine. A former Russian security forces officer, with a clipped grey moustache and a penchant for historical re-enactments, Strelkov led the takeover of the city of Slavyansk in April 2014, which portended the armed conflict across the region.
In Kiev, he was seen as a bloody and ruthless war criminal a Kremlin agent sent by Moscow to wreak havoc in Ukraine. In Russia, he was portrayed as a valiant military hero, resulting the local rebel forces-out in their efforts to combat Kiev. He could be found striding through the corridors of the Donetsk rebel headquarters, with a Stechkin pistol in a vintage wooden holster at his hip and flanked by heavily armed bodyguards.
Two years later, he cuts a very different figure, during an interview with the Guardian at his small Moscow office. In civilian attire and somewhat chubbier, he spent the encounter stroking his huge Maine Coon cat, Grumpy, which lay on the table in front of him. Strelkov has in recent weeks turned his rhetorical fire on the Kremlin itself, even if he no longer has an army with which to back up his terms.
Putin and his circle have recently taken steps which I believe will almost inevitably lead to the collapse of the system, Strelkov said. We dont know yet how, and we dont know when, but we are certain it will collapse, and more likely sooner than later.
Pulled out of east Ukraine by the Kremlin in August 2014, reportedly because the Russian authorities felt he was too much of a liability, Strelkov entered a strange twilight zone, prevented from returning to the conflict or featuring in state-controlled media. After nearly two years of sitting quietly, the erstwhile poster boy of the pro-Russia cause last week released a declaration strongly critical of President Vladimir Putin, and predicting upheaval and bloodshed in Russia in the near future.
Strelkov, whose real surname is Girkin( Strelkov is a pseudonym derived from the Russian for the Shooter ), believes Putin dithered at the crucial moment in 2014, for dread of breaking off ties between Russia and the west for good. A revolutionary nationalist who believes Russia should seize all the lands where ethnic Russians live, and who describes Ukrainians as Russians who speak a different dialect, Strelkov said it was fatal that Putin stopped after annexing Crimea.
He crossed the Rubicon, but then stopped unexpectedly and illogically. He didnt retreat, but didnt go forward either. He has no ideas and seems to be waiting for a miracle. Hes stuck in the middle of a swamp.
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