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    The man who shot down MH17 to run for president against Putin in a 'sham' election

    Girkin said that he does not think that he will be allowed to take part in the elections. Photo: AFP

    The pro-war Russian nationalist who played a leading role in the downing of MH17 over Ukraine has said he wants to run for president against Vladimir Putin, despite calling the upcoming election a “sham.”In a letter published on his Telegram account, former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Igor Girkin, who helped Russia annex Crimea, said: “I understand perfectly well that in the current situation in Russia, participating in the presidential campaign is the same as sitting down for table and play with cheaters.”

    Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the plenary session of the 9th International Cultural Forum Photo: Getty Images Europe

    Girkin said he does not think he will be allowed to participate in the elections, but hopes that his attempt to unite patriotic forces will thwart the Kremlin's plan for “sham elections” in which “the only winner is known in advance.”

    < p>“This is our chance to unite in the face of external and internal threats,” he said in a letter headlined “I'm going to run.”

    Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said in an interview published Friday that he hopes that Putin will run in the March elections for another term as president, which would keep him in power until at least 2030.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin looks up during the plenary session of the 9th International Cultural Forum. Photo: Getty Images Europe

    Opposition politicians say Putin has built a dictatorial system since he first came to power in 1999 that mimics the institutions of democracy while preventing any real political competition or real dissent.

    Girkin was the commander of separatist-backed forces in Ukraine when airliner MH17 was shot down out of the sky, killing 298 passengers. Last year he was found guilty in absentia by a Dutch court.

    A monarchist who wrote a dissertation on the “White Russians” who fought the “Red” Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution, he is one of the most prominent nationalists to criticize Russia's handling of the war , which he calls part of an existential battle with an arrogant West.

    He called the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 “positive” but says the post-Soviet Russian elite was corrupt and working for the West to weaken Russia.

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