Igor Girkin, a jailed warlord and former intelligence officer, has told his allies to prepare a campaign for his intended run for president of Russia, Oleg Nelzin, head of a pro-Girkin political group, said in a video published by Russian media outlet Sota on Nov. 18.
Nelzin cited Girkin's instructions written in a letter sent from pre-trial detention.
Girkin, also known by his alias Strelkov, called on "all patriotic Russian forces and political and social organizations" to support him and asked his allies to start collecting signatures for his campaign.
However, it would be impossible for Girkin to be registered as a candidate in the March 17, 2024 presidential election without the Kremlin's approval, according to independent observers. Candidates in Russian elections are vetted by the Kremlin beforehand, and voting is heavily rigged.
Girkin, who is also a military blogger, was arrested on extremism charges in July in what was widely seen as the Kremlin's vendetta for his criticism of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
The formal excuse for Girkin's arrest was a post he wrote on the Telegram and Vkontakte social networks in May 2022. In the post, he complained about Russian proxy fighters in Donetsk Oblast allegedly getting no pay and called for "shooting" those responsible for that.
Girkin has frequently slammed Putin and Russia's Defense Ministry for their handling of the full-scale invasion.
He has attacked Putin for not going far enough in his efforts to defeat and destroy Ukraine. He has called for carrying out a full-scale mobilization of conscripts and the economy, introducing martial law, and setting the destruction of the Ukrainian state as Russia's official war aim.
Girkin, a former officer of Russia's Federal Security Service, took part in the annexation of Crimea in February-March 2014 as one of Russia's proxies. He later admitted that pro-Russian militants had forced members of Crimea's legislature to vote for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine.
In April 2014, a group of militants headed by Girkin seized the town of Sloviansk in Donetsk Oblast, effectively launching Russia's war in the Donbas. He said in a 2014 interview that he had pulled the trigger of the war, and it would not have begun without him.
In November 2022, the Hague District Court convicted Girkin and his subordinates in absentia for downing a civilian aircraft flying over Ukraine from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in 2014 and killing all 298 people on board. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Another visible critic of Putin, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, ran the Wagner Group private army employed by the Kremlin. After a one-day mutiny by Wagner forces in June, the Kremlin cracked down on dissenting voices and Prigozhin's plane was shot down in Russia in August, killing him.