Vladimir Putin has made a war criminal a "commander" in Ukraine, despite the fact he is wanted in connection to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
Igor Strelkov, 51, is the former Defence Minister of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), which was recently annexed by Putin following a sham referendum.
The brutal ex-FSB colonel has been critical of the Kremlin over the botched Ukraine invasion, but appears to have changed tack.
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Strelkov has now become a frontline commander in Ukraine and was pictured wearing military uniform and bidding farewell to his wife.
In recent months he has been calling on Putin to take a more brutal approach in Ukraine on Telegram, but his channel has now gone quiet.
His wife Miroslava Reginskaya, 29, posted: “He is okay. He will be in touch soon.”
Military reporter Yuri Kotenok said: “Strelkov's silence since October 10 is explained by the fact that after eighty years he was allowed to leave for the war zone.
“He went to fight in one of the volunteer battalions as chief of staff or deputy commander.”
Strelkov has amassed 500,000 followers on the social media platform with his calls for a more hardline strategy.
He was blamed after Flight MH17 was hit by a Russian-supplied BUK missile while flying over eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces were battling Russian-backed separatists at the time.
He is a wanted man in the West over the 298 civilians killed when the Boeing 777 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was blown out of the sky.
Russia previously blocked Strelkov from reaching the front line.
He brazenly warned last month that Putin could be toppled if military humiliations continued.
"All it will take is an outbreak of inflation or a few more military defeats to finish him off,” he posted
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He also branded Putin "useless" and suggested that Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu should face "execution by shooting".
Strelkov was known for his cruelty in Donetsk, bragging brag about ordering prisoners and looters to be shot.
His promotion suggests that Putin is putting hardliners in full control of the invasion.
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