Russia’s Crackdown on Dissent: Jailing of Putin Critic and Conviction in Bomb Attack Case

In a recent turn of events, Russian courts have taken harsh actions against a prominent ultra-nationalist critic of Vladimir Putin and a woman convicted in connection with a fatal bomb attack. Igor Girkin, also known as Strelkov, a former battlefield commander of Russian proxy forces in eastern Ukraine, has been sentenced to four years in jail on extremism charges stemming from his criticism of Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. Concurrently, Darya Trepova, a woman convicted of delivering a bomb that killed a pro-war blogger, has received a lengthy 27-year prison sentence.

Russian Courts Imprison Putin Critic and Convict Woman in Bomb Attack Trial

Girkin, a former officer for Russia’s FSB security service, played a pivotal role in the conflict in Ukraine, leading pro-Russian forces that occupied eastern Ukrainian cities starting in 2014. His armed intervention marked the beginning of the ongoing conflict in the region. In a controversial move, a Dutch court had previously found Girkin guilty in absentia for the murder of 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014. The Dutch court handed him a life sentence for his involvement in sending a Buk surface-to-air missile system, allegedly controlled by Russia, to a field near the village of Pervomaisky, where it fired upon the passenger jet.

Darya-Trepova russia

However, Girkin’s recent imprisonment in Moscow is unrelated to the MH17 incident but rather stems from charges of “calls for extremism” related to his outspoken criticism of Putin’s approach to the war in Ukraine. His arrest last summer and subsequent imprisonment reflect a broader crackdown on dissent within Russia, indicating that the Kremlin is keen on suppressing even those who may support Moscow’s invasion but voice dissenting opinions.

Crushing Dissent in Russia

Piet Ploeg, head of a foundation representing Dutch MH17 victims, expressed mixed feelings regarding Girkin’s recent sentencing. While acknowledging Girkin’s imprisonment, Ploeg emphasized that it was not for the right reasons, stating that Girkin should be in a Dutch prison for his role in the MH17 shoot-down rather than for expressing his opinions. Ploeg’s sentiments highlight the complex nature of justice in cases where individuals face charges beyond their alleged involvement in specific incidents.

Since the commencement of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Girkin has emerged as a prominent voice among ultra-nationalist and pro-war bloggers critical of the Kremlin’s military failures. Through his Telegram channel, followed by more than 760,000 people, Girkin accused the Kremlin of insufficient commitment to the war effort in Ukraine. He repeatedly called for a total mobilization of Russian society and its economy to support the ongoing conflict. Notably, Girkin did not spare Putin from his criticism, describing him as a “nothingness” who deceived a significant portion of the population. Girkin went further, urging Putin to relinquish power to someone he deemed more capable and responsible.

In an interesting parallel, Girkin’s rhetoric echoed that of the late Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was similarly critical of Russia’s military leadership and the defense ministry. Girkin’s arrest, occurring a month after Prigozhin’s failed mutiny, was perceived by many observers as a move by the Kremlin to quell influential ultra-nationalists following the Wagner uprising. Subsequently, several pro-war commentators aligned themselves with the Kremlin, toning down their critical rhetoric.

Putin Critic Girkin Faces Jail in Russia

In a separate case on the same day, Darya Trepova, a 26-year-old Russian woman, was sentenced to 27 years in prison for delivering a bomb that killed pro-war military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky. Tatarsky, whose real name was Maxim Fomin, lost his life during a discussion with other right-wing commentators at a cafe on the banks of the Neva River in St Petersburg. Footage from the incident showed Trepova handing Tatarsky a statuette out of a box, followed by a large explosion.

Trepova, at her trial, claimed that she was set up and unaware of the explosive device in the statuette. She asserted that she believed the object contained a listening device, not a bomb. According to Trepova, she acted under orders from a man in Ukraine known as “Gestalt” (German for “shape”), who had been providing her with money and instructions for several months. Despite her plea of not guilty to the terrorism charge, she received one of the longest sentences given to a woman in modern Russian history.

Russia’s Stifling of Opposition

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The case involving Trepova is part of a series of incidents targeting pro-war commentators in Russia since the beginning of the conflict. Moscow has accused Kyiv of the murder of Darya Dugina, the daughter of an ultra-nationalist Russian ideologue, who was killed when a bomb exploded in the Toyota Land Cruiser she was driving. However, Ukraine has vehemently denied any involvement in these killings.

The imprisonment of Girkin and the sentencing of Trepova underscore the Russian government’s strict stance against dissenting voices, even from those who were once aligned with the Kremlin. The cases raise questions about the state of freedom of expression and the rule of law in Russia, as individuals are penalized not only for direct involvement in violent incidents but also for expressing opinions contrary to the official narrative. As international scrutiny continues, these cases may further contribute to the ongoing debate surrounding human rights and political dissent in Russia.

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