Putin's 'Gunman' Demanding More Russian Support in Ukraine

Image: Putin's 'Gunman' Demanding More Russian Support in Ukraine Pro-Russian separatist commander Igor Strelkov. (Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters/Landov)

Friday, 25 Jul 2014 03:19 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The Russian commander in charge of separatist militia forces in Ukraine has a warning for Russia President Vladimir Putin: Lose Ukraine and you'll lose your power.

Col. Igor Strelkov, a former commander of Russian special forces during the Chechen war in 2011, has been commanding rebel units with the MH17 in Ukraine, reports The Daily Beast. 

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His command is under direction from Moscow, but made up of unprofessional fighters, not normal Russian military, and his troops have been losing to advancing troops from the Donetsk Ukrainia Anti-Terror Operation Forces.

And then last week, Strelkov was labeled a possible war criminal after an anti-aircraft missile blamed on his troops shot down Malaysia Air Flight 17.

But that hasn't slowed down his argument that he will need more Russian military support to keep his troops from losing the Ukraine, and he has warned that if the war is lost, it will threaten both the Kremlin and Putin.

Strelkov's adviser, Igor Druzd, said in an article for the Russian publication Ruskline on Wednesday, said that Putin will either need to send in the army and win control or lose his presidency, a choice that ousted Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych had to face.

"I hope that the Ukrainian tragedy will neither become the tragedy of Russia nor the personal tragedy of Putin," wrote Druzd.

According to Ukrainian authorities, Russia has already deployed heavy weapons and are already fighting in eastern Ukraine. Further, they maintain the Kremlin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu are controlling Strelkov's actions.

Anton Geraschenko, adviser to Ukraine's Ministry of Interior Affairs, told The Daily Beast that his government has proven without a doubt that Strelkov, along with other leaders, are being "instructed directly by Shoygu."

Further, he said that Shoygu would "not dare" to send tanks and other weapons in "unless Putin approved of that."

Further, the ministry insists that Strelkov's troops got all the weapons they needed from Russia, but Strelkov maintains his army had to buy the mortars, rocket launchers, and other weapons "for fabulously huge money"

But Strelkov says he also needs more professional fighters, not the local men and volunteers without combat experience, and he wants men who know how to handle heavy weaponry.

Strelkov, whose real name is Girkin, but his assumed name means "gunman," has complained on video that only about 1,000 volunteers were willing to join his army.

Strelkov resigned his work at the Russian Federal Security Service in May 2013 and has been the rebel commander since earlier this year.

But Strelkov claims he is defending Putin's reputation, and Drudz told The Daily Beast Thursday that it's important for Russian troops to come into eastern Ukraine, or Donbass, to prevent a revolution from spreading to Moscow.

"Putin’s popularity is fading away, since nobody has stopped the slaughter of Russians in Donbass," said Druzd. "The president's approval rating is much lower in Moscow and St. Petersburg than in the provinces."

But meanwhile, he said, Russia is mainly sending "information and humanitarian help," not the "significant military support" the troops need.

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