Igor Girkin has accused President Vladimir Putin and the army top brass of not pursuing the Ukraine war effectively enough.

A court in Russia has convicted prominent nationalist and former rebel commander Igor Girkin of “inciting extremism” and sentenced him to four years in a penal colony.

Girkin has repeatedly criticised the Kremlin for its war strategy in Ukraine after Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

The Moscow City Court on Thursday said Girkin was guilty of “public calls to carry out extremist activities”.

Also known as Igor Strelkov, Girkin has accused President Vladimir Putin and army top brass of not pursuing the Ukraine war effectively enough.

“I serve the Fatherland!” Girkin shouted after the verdict was read out. His followers had gathered outside the court and three of them were detained by police, the AFP news agency reported.

“The accusation is absolutely absurd,” said his wife Miroslava Reginskaya. His lawyer Alexander Molokhov called the sentence “an ugly judicial act” that would be appealed immediately.

Girkin’s case has been closely watched as an indication of how far the Kremlin would tolerate aggressive criticism of its war effort in Ukraine. Since the start of the conflict, described by Russia as a “special military operation”, the Kremlin has focused on persecuting antiwar activists.

He was remanded in custody in July last year after setting up the “Club of Angry Patriots” to save Russia from what he said was the danger of systemic turmoil due to military failures in Ukraine and jostling in the elite to eventually succeed Putin.

In one of his most outspoken rants in a post on July 18 on his Telegram channel, followed by more than 760,000 people, Girkin hurled personal insults at Putin and urged him to pass power “to someone truly capable and responsible”.

A former officer for Russia’s FSB security service and battlefield commander, Girkin helped Russia to annex Crimea in 2014 and, soon after, to organise pro-Russian militias who wrested part of eastern Ukraine out of Kyiv’s control – events that started the current conflict.

He was handed a life sentence in absentia by a Dutch court in 2022 for his alleged role in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, in which all 298 passengers and crew were killed. He denied wrongdoing at the time.

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