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Russia's Armchair Warrior Turns on Ukraine's Rebel Leader

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Russia, Ukraine, Citizen Media, Humor, War & Conflict, RuNet Echo
Russia's armchair warrior? Sergei Kurginyan earns himself a meme on the Russian Internet. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Russia's armchair warrior? Sergei Kurginyan earns himself a meme on the Russian Internet. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Russian supporters of the insurgency in eastern Ukraine are panicking after rebels fled from their stronghold in Slovyansk last week. Igor Strelkov, the retired Russian military intelligence colonel who commands the rebel militia, has come under fire from erstwhile admirers for “surrendering” the city to national troops. On July 5, after the retreat from Slovyansk, some Russians turned on Strelkov, suddenly questioning his wisdom and even his motives.

The internecine spectacle was fodder for critics of Ukraine’s insurgency, who seized on a particularly scathing video blog [1] (see below) by Sergei Kurginyan. (Read the Russian transcript here [2].)

Kurginyan is something of a Renaissance man, having worked as a political scientist, geophysicist, theatre director, and television host. More than three years ago, he founded a “patriotic movement” called “Essence of Time [3],” which has attracted more than 9 thousand subscribers and 2.2 million views [4] on YouTube. Over the past week, Kurginyan has used the Essence of Time’s YouTube channel to rain down hatred on the government in Kiev.

When Strelkov withdrew from Slovyansk, Kurginyan turned his ire on the rebel commander, going so far as to fault him for failing to defend the city to the death, like Sparta’s King Leonidas. The video criticizing Strelkov has attracted almost 300 thousand views in three days.

A day after Kurginyan posted his tirade, Alexey Navalny’s Twitter account challenged [5] Russian Twitter users to create an Internet meme using a still image from the video. (The image Navalny selected features Kurginyan holding up his hand to swear an oath to his audience that Strelkov, contrary to frequent complaining about a lack of resources, has received all the necessary support from Russia.) An anti-corruption activist and vocal critic of Russia’s support for Ukraine’s insurgency, Navalny is also a hyper-popular blogger, with 674 thousand followers on Twitter.

Navalny was quick to point out that Kurginyan, at one point in the video, also lashes out at “armchair loudmouths” who dispute his version of events in Ukraine. As it happens, Kurginyan delivers this message from a couch, seated alongside two automatic rifles, looking very much the poster child of armchair analysis.

Sergei Kurginyan lashes out at “armchair loudmouths.”

Oleg Kashin, a journalist and prominent figure in Russian social media, noted Kurginyan’s ‘bravery of being out of range,’ highlighting the hypocrisy of criticizing Strelkov’s military strategy from the comfort of a sofa.

Kurginyan did not have the right to DENOUNCE Strelkov while sitting on a WARM couch.

Even Konstantin Rykov, one of Twitter’s most popular pro-Kremlin users, joined in on the fun, reframing Kurginyan’s rant as sports commentary on Brazil’s crushing defeat in the World Cup:

Kurginyan: “I have two simple questions: why did they surrender the ball to their opponent and who let [Miroslav] Klose get through?”

Others on Twitter have contributed photoedited images, taking up Navalny’s challenge to transform Kurginyan’s odd gesture into a meme.

Star Trek.

I couldn’t resist.

Since everyone’s posting Kurginyan pics…

The online antics don’t stop at Twitter, either. Days ago, a fanciful petition [16] to conscript Kurginyan into the Donetsk rebel militia appeared on Change.org, where 744 people have already endorsed the idea.