Where is Igor Strelkov?
A few day after a separatist news agency reported the notorious rebel commander had been seriously wounded, the news trail has gone largely silent, leaving many to speculate about the true fate of Strelkov and Ukraine's increasingly fractious separatists.
Agentsvo Novorossia, an unofficial information site established by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR), announced Strelkov, the so-called defense minister of the DNR, had been injured and was in critical condition.
The account was quickly repeated by the DNR's former leader, Denis Pushilin, who stated via video that he was awaiting confirmation and further details. Pushilin added, however, that the fight for eastern Ukraine would continue, and that Strelkov had trained a significant number of commanders prepared to take his place.
Other members of the DNR, however, have since denied the reports. Strelkov's own deputy, Fyodor Berezin, said that "everything is fine with Igor Strelkov."
Sergei Kavtaradze, a member of the separatist republic's makeshift Security Council, said the rumors were "complete nonsense" aimed at demoralizing the rebels on the eve of "decisive battles."
Kavtaradze went on to accuse Agentsvo Novorossia of disinformation, adding, "Igor Strelkov is alive and well."
A fourth DNR official, Andrei Purgin, who serves as deputy prime minister, said he could neither confirm nor deny the information. He noted, however, that Strelkov had been located in areas of heavy fighting and that rumors of an injury were "likely" to be true.
Offering yet another perspective was Aleksandr Borodai, the former DNR prime minister, who told Submariners World on August 14 that Strelkov had not been injured but had resigned from his post. He said Strelkov had been replaced by a militia fighter with the nickname "the Tsar."
Scapegoat Or Conquering Hero?
Strelkov -- a 43-year-old Muscovite also known by his real name, Igor Girkin -- is one of the most infamous figures in the ongoing separatist war in eastern Ukraine.
An avowed Russian nationalist and suspected military intelligence officer, Strelkov is a veteran of several Kremlin military operations, including the 1992 war in Moldova's Transdniester region and the first and second Chechen campaigns.
In Ukraine, he is widely believed to be acting as an agent of Moscow, despite the Kremlin's insistence it is not involved in the separatist conflict. The Ukrainian government has accused Strelkov of masterminding brutal attacks on Ukrainian citizens and armed forces; internationally, he gained instant notoriety for appearing to claim separatist responsibility for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which he erroneously identified as a Ukrainian military transport plane. Two hundred and ninety-eight people were killed in the incident.
Some have interpreted Strelkov's rumored injury as a sign that Moscow, deeply compromised by the MH17 downing, may have recalled him as punishment for his costly blunder.