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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Igor Girkin Blues: Russia's Most Depressed War Criminal Has More Bad News For Putin

He’s been accused of multiple atrocities, and convicted in the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine in 2014. But since Russia's invasion, Igor Girkin seems ever more in a state of despondency, with a uniquely dark view on the future, for Vladimir Putin most of all.

Photo of hands holding cards including one featuring Igor Girkin

Girkin, the most depressed war criminal in Russia?

Anna Akage

-Analysis-

For Ukrainians, Igor Girkin is one of the most despised figures of the standing Russian power structure. He helped lead the 2014 military coup in Donbas and is the self-proclaimed commander of Donetsk, later found guilty and sentenced in absentia to life in prison for the deaths of 298 on the Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 that was shot down in 2014 by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine.

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A veteran of the Federal Security Service (FSB) spy service, the Moscow native has monarchist leanings and boasts of his standing as a Russian patriot. Girkin is also, apparently, very depressed.

In his latest interview, the 52-year-old said that Vladimir Putin had long ago lost the war in Ukraine. He also predicted that Russia would fall apart into warring regions — and he himself would face trial and death in The Hague.


The interview with Girkin reminds me of the old joke: "When the seventh angel sounds the trumpet, the first six will already be on YouTube." With that twist on the Apocalypse of John the Evangelist, we might predict that when this war is over, we will all look back at Girkin as the video messenger of the Russian apocalypse, who tells us with his sad eyes and worn face that everything is already over.

Final battle in Moscow

Since the first months of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Girkin’s criticisms have stood out not only for their frank analysis, but also for their melancholy tones. Putin and the entire Russian military command not only did everything possible to lose the war, but will also lead to the inevitable collapse of Russia that would follow the war.

He has repeatedly argued that the attack on Kyiv should have been back in 2014 without waiting for Ukraine and its allies to create a combat-ready army.

When this power collapses on itself, we will have many options, and most will be catastrophic

"The final battle will be here in Moscow, for the minds of the government, if it still has any, which I doubt — and for the minds of the people,” he says in the interview broadcast this weekend on YouTube channel Kovalev Principle. “Because when this power collapses on itself and the country, we will have many different options, and most will be catastrophic.”

For all his criticism of Putin, Girkin says he sees no point in overthrowing him — it's apparently either too late or impossible.

"I'm not going to fight against this government because I understand perfectly well what will happen next, and I don't want to be responsible for it," he says.

Bleak future

Girkin appears obsessed with the depressing visions of a defeated Russia. "Occupation troops will come, disarm the Russian Federation of its nuclear weapons, democratize us into about 30 parts, and this will lead to a bunch of civil wars on our territory,” he predicted. “China will instantly create a dozen people's republics beyond the Urals, which will also cause another dozen civil wars."

Envisioning such an apocalypse, Girkin remains a patriot, and as such, he warns his fellow Russians about their bleak future. The strange thing is how Girkin is allowed to make public declarations that would get others quietly killed or loudly imprisoned. This can perhaps be explained by the fact that he voices thoughts and the fears of Russian politicians and oligarchs who have enough power and influence to keep him alive and talking.

"We still don't have the president taking responsibility for what's happening. The "special military operation" is conducted by the Ministry of Defense; it's nonsense. War is an extension of politics by other means,” he says. “Still, the President and the military are shifting responsibility, which indicates that dementia has reached the highest levels.”

The interview, which lasts an hour and a half, essentially goes like this: the war is lost, there is nobody to replace Putin, all his political opponents are either dead or in prison, and all that is left is a gang of stupid and greedy military commanders and oligarchs, who make the situation even worse.

The Russian media treats Girkin as a whiner, as does the Ukrainian media. However, for all the gloominess of the picture painted in the imagination of this former spy, it is actually more sober and realistic than any "insights" from the Pentagon.

We listen to these dark visions of the future without an ounce of joy. But we listen.

Here is why: an empire of Russia’s size, with its resources and level of propaganda, with a huge population that does not identify itself as a single nation, living largely in poverty and filled with anger towards the world, which has long lacked the controls over the system in the form of courts, independent media, and human rights organizations, cannot simply lose. It can only explode.

To be clear, this is by no means in the interests of Ukraine: who needs a fire raging in the house next door!? So we listen to these dark visions of the future without an ounce of joy. But we listen. For even if Putin’s demise doesn't unfold exactly as Igor Girkin predicts, he’s right that the consequences for Russia can only be monumental.

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