Russian prosecutor seeks long jail term for nationalist Putin critic Girkin

Pro-war Kremlin critic Girkin appeals against his detention, in Moscow

By Andrew Osborn

(Reuters) -A Russian state prosecutor asked a Moscow court on Thursday to jail prominent nationalist Igor Girkin, who accuses President Vladimir Putin and the army top brass of not pursuing the Ukraine war effectively enough, for nearly five years.

State prosecutors accuse Girkin, who is regarded in the West as a war criminal over the 2014 shooting down of a passenger plane over eastern Ukraine, of inciting extremism, something he denies.

His case is being closely watched as an indication of how far the Kremlin will tolerate aggressive criticism of its war effort in Ukraine, something it calls a "special military operation".

The Moscow court hearing his case said in a statement on Thursday that the state prosecutor had asked that Girkin be jailed for four years and 11 months in a prison colony and handed a three-year ban on using the internet.

A verdict in the case is expected on Jan. 25.

Girkin, 53, who had publicly entertained ideas about running against Putin in an upcoming presidential election, was remanded in custody in July last year.

In May, he and others had set up the "Club of Angry Patriots" to save Russia from what he said was the danger of systemic turmoil due to military failures in Ukraine and jostling in the elite to eventually succeed Putin.

In one of his most outspoken tirades, in a post on July 18 on his official Telegram channel, followed by more than 760,000 people, Girkin peppered Putin with personal insults and urged him to pass power "to someone truly capable and responsible".

A former officer for Russia's FSB security service and battlefield commander also known as Igor Strelkov, Girkin helped Russia to annex Crimea in 2014 and, soon after, to organise pro-Russian militias who wrested part of eastern Ukraine out of Kyiv's control - events that started Russia's war on Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials and Western human rights groups accused him of committing war crimes there, something he denied.

He was handed a life sentence in absentia by a Dutch court in 2022 for his alleged role in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, with the loss of 298 passengers and crew. He denied wrongdoing at the time.

(Reporting by ReutersEditing by Andrew Osborn and Nick Macfie)