Igor Girkin - alias Strelkov - is the man who said of himself that he brought the war to Ukraine in 2014. Or in his diction: he alone prevented the areas of the later People's Republics from falling under Kiev's control.
Now it looks like Girkin is on his way to the front lines in Ukraine. Rumor has it that he will serve there on the staff of a volunteer battalion. The story is authenticated by a farewell photo of his wife.
The whole thing is not unbelievable. Girkin is a popular figure in Russia and is among the military bloggers who have been harshly critical of the Russian campaign in Ukraine from the start. Not because of the objective of eliminating Ukraine as a sovereign state, but because of the dilettantism of the Moscow leadership. That's why he and some other bloggers are now to be charged. Since he is wanted internationally for his crimes in the 2014/2015 war, he can only go to Ukraine to avoid persecution in Moscow.
He is accused of numerous war crimes from the time of the separatist wars. He is said to have been involved in, or even ordered, the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. When he showed up in Ukraine with 53 followers in 2014, the Maidan movement had seized power in Kyiv and was trying to expand it to the eastern parts of the country. Here, in the predominantly Russian-speaking regions, the ousted President Yanukovych had his power base. There were clashes between his supporters and the forces of Kiev. Chaotically conducted on both sides, the clashes quickly degenerated into violence. In the city of Sloviansk, an alcoholic "mayor" organized resistance to Kyiv. Unlike such figures, Girkin and his few men were seasoned professional military men. They turned the town into a fortress and stopped the superior forces of Kiev.
He also showed a penchant for unnecessary cruelty. He had a suspected car thief shot after a sham trial. Two of his own men were also shot dead for looting clothes in the rubble.
Finally, Kiev soldiers managed to encircle the town, and at the last moment Girkin broke out with his troops. This maneuver is considered by some to be a brilliant move that enabled the separatists to hold Donetsk, while others see it as a cowardly escape. But Girkin rose further, organized the defense of the Donetsk region and was instrumental in cutting off and crushing a massive advance by Kiev troops.
In August 2014, he retired from the separatist military command and returned to the Russian capital. At that time he claimed under pressure from Moscow. The leadership there had begun liquidating the overly self-reliant commanders in the region, Girkin said, so he had no choice.
Since then, he has become a massive critic not only of the Putin government, but also of what he feels is an overly lethargic Russian people. In particular, he scathingly criticized the operations of the Russian army in Ukraine. So it came about that the wanted war criminal was regularly quoted in Western media. What role he will play in Ukraine today is unclear. In any case, it will not match its importance in 2014. His notoriety will make him a prime target for Ukrainian forces, who will try to kill him as soon as possible.