Rebels and oligarchs: 7 key players in eastern Ukraine

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has a strange cast of characters – from Russian-born rebels with checkered pasts to some of the country’s richest businessmen. Their webs of tangled alliances offer a window into Europe's first major war of the century. Here’s a look at some of the key figures. 

1. Igor Girkin

Dmitry Lovetsky/AP
In this Friday, July 11, 2014 file photo, Igor Girkin also known as Igor Strelkov, a pro-Russian commander, center, arrives for the wedding of platoon commander Arsen Pavlov and Elena Kolenkina in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.

Known by his nom de guerre Strelkov, or “shooter,” Igor Girkin is a prominent rebel commander. A native of Russia, Mr. Girkin oversaw rebel forces in Slovyansk before being pushed back to Dontesk by an Ukrainian offensive. Human Rights Watch cites allegations of kidnappings and executions under his reign. He has a long history of participating in conflicts including those in Transnistria, Serbia, and Chechnya. According to several reports, Girkin is an avid war reenactor who especially enjoys the period of the Russian Civil War.

Girkin first appeared in Crimea before heading to eastern Ukraine. He has admitted to serving in the FSB, Russia’s security service, until March 31, 2013. But he has criticized Russia for not directly intervening in eastern Ukraine. As with many things concerning Girkin, it remains unclear who, if anyone, gives him his orders. On July 17, when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down, social media postings – which were quickly deleted – showed someone believed to be Girkin bragging about shooting down a plane. The European Union blacklisted him on April 29. 

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