Wagner boss invites legendary field commander back to frontlines
The head of Russian private military company (PMC) Wagner Group has urged one of his arch-critics, military blogger Igor Strelkov, to join his organization and fight on the frontlines in the Ukraine conflict.
Earlier this week Strelkov, whose real name is Igor Girkin, described Prigozhin as “a felon and a servant,” saying he should not be allowed to make statements in the public space. He claimed that the Wagner Group were “excellent storm troopers” but commanded “in the most botched way possible.” The blogger went on to claim that Prigozhin is not the real leader of the private military company, but just a figurehead.
The Wagner Group chief responded on Thursday, saying he was “inviting Girkin to the frontlines, to verify his stance and use what he calls his military experience. I offer him to come to the Lugansk People’s Republic to be assigned a command post in line with his competence in one of the assault units.”
Prigozhin, as cited by his press service, said Strelkov would not hold a particularly high position in the Wagner Group, as he first needs to prove himself, adding: “it’s time to switch from words to actions.”
Strelkov replied hours later, writing on Telegram that such offers should be made personally, not through the media. However, he stated that he was ready to discuss the proposal “during proper business-like talks” with representatives of the Wagner Group. He added that any meeting should take place in Moscow, as he sees no point in traveling to Lugansk without knowing all the details.
Strelkov briefly went to Donbass in the autumn and posted photos of himself in military gear on social media. However, he later said he could not enlist with any of the units taking part in the fighting in Ukraine, due to issues with his papers.
At that time, the Ukrainian authorities, who have charged Strelkov with committing war crimes and engaging in “terrorist activity,” offered a reward of $100,000 for his capture.
Igor “Strelkov” Girkin is a veteran of several armed conflicts and a former officer of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). In 2014, a year after quitting the FSB, he became one of the most prominent commanders in the self-defense forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic in its conflict with Kiev, and served as the DPR defense minister for three months after the region declared its independence from Ukraine. After returning to Russia, he switched to blogging and commenting, often openly criticizing the government and military leadership.
In November 2022, a panel of Dutch judges in The Hague found Strelkov guilty of murder for his alleged role in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, and sentenced him in absentia to life imprisonment. Strelkov has admitted to feeling “a moral responsibility” for the deaths of the 298 people on board, but has refused to admit direct involvement.