Kirill Stremousov: rise, fall and death of the Kherson official installed in Russia | Ukraine

Kirill Stremousov was in the mood to chat.

A political misfit on the fringes of society just six months earlier, he was clearly relishing the newfound attention he was receiving as the public face of Russia’s occupation of Ukraine’s Kherson region.

“I’m constantly on top,” the Moscow-based official told the Guardian in a phone interview in August. “We won. I live in a dream. Russia is in Kherson forever.

That “forever” came to an abrupt end on Wednesday, when Stremousov, 45, was killed in a car crash as he drove away from Kherson.

By then he was already fully aware that his dream of a Russian Kherson would soon be torn apart as Ukrainian troops closed in to liberate the city.

On Friday evening, in remarkable scenes, crowds of cheering residents greeted the Ukrainian armed forces as they reached the center of Kherson.

The rise and fall of Stremousov tells how one man’s ruthless opportunism and ideological fantasies can unfold in a war-torn country.

It also serves to demonstrate how rogue and disreputable figures thrive in Russia today as the country’s rulers embrace anti-Western hysteria.

A portrait displayed at a memorial service for Kirill Stremousov in Simferopol, Crimea. Photo: Alexey Pavlishak/Reuters

Born in eastern Ukraine in 1976, Stremousov worked odd jobs growing up, pretending to sell bloodhounds in the UK and the Netherlands, while later working for the state fisheries inspectorate.

His life was transformed, he said, after what he described as an “epic journey in search of himself” on a motorbike through Latin America, following in the footsteps of his hero, Ernesto Che Guevara.

“I always wanted to be someone, like Che. I’m getting there,” he said.

Upon his return, he began blogging extensively, propagating some of the many conspiracy theories that had arisen in the post-Soviet sphere as millions sought ways to cope with the collapse of the bloc and the extreme economic instability.

He was particularly fond of the neo-Stalinist and neo-pagan Social Security Concept movement, a conspiracy theory with strong anti-Semitic connotations, one of the many contradictions of a man who claimed to fight the “Ukrainian Nazis”.

Much of the interview with the Guardian in August consisted of him raving about the Nazis who he said ruled Ukraine while disparaging “Western evil liberalism”.

Sometimes, however, Stremousov suddenly changed his tone, speaking with envy and admiration of the European capitals he visited during his travels.

“I would love to see those special cafes again in Amsterdam,” he laughed.

When Covid arrived, Stremousov unsurprisingly became a vocal anti-vaxxer.

Meanwhile, he also went viral after a video of him swinging his young daughter around her head like a rag doll, causing her to ‘pop her bones’, was picked up by tabloids around the world.

A candidate for mayor of Kherson in 2020, Stremousov obtained just over 1% of the vote. He probably would have spent his life as a petty troublemaker had it not been for Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, which allowed the misfit blogger to realize his darkest dreams.

With much of Ukraine’s administration in Kherson either gone or refusing to serve the Russians, Moscow turned to figures such as Stremousov in an attempt to lend a semblance of legitimacy to their occupation, appointing him “deputy governor” in April. of the region.

On paper he was second in command, but he quickly eclipsed his shy boss, Volodymyr Saldo, by releasing a daily stream of aggressive anti-Ukrainian videos that often bordered on the absurd.

Stremousov’s rise culminated in September when he proudly paraded around the Kremlin’s St George Hall during Putin’s bombastic ceremony marking the annexation of Kherson and three other Ukrainian regions.

Putin’s willingness to promote fringe figures such as Stremousov was a symbol of the final stage of his two-decade rule, said Andrei Pertsev, a Russian political journalist.

“Putin’s vocabulary and behavior are becoming increasingly rogue,” Pertsev wrote in a recent article for the Carnegie Endowment think tank. “The president himself embraces the margins of society,” Pertsev added.

During Putin’s annexation speech in the Kremlin, he and Russia’s political elite observed a minute’s silence in honor of the “fallen heroes” of Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014. One of the people remembered was Motorola, real name Arseny Pavlov. , a violent warlord who died in a car bomb in 2016.

With the war in Ukraine, Putin also raised Ramzan Kadyrov, the ruthless Chechen dictator, and Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the ex-convict who heads the private paramilitary group Wagner.

Some within the elites now seem to be watching Putin’s behavior closely.

An associate of Sergei Kiriyenko, a once-liberal presidential administration figure responsible for managing politics in the occupied territories, said his decision to suddenly dress in military fatigues was likely inspired by the regime’s growing militarism.

“In the time of monsters, you also have to dress like one,” he said.

In the end, Stremousov might have overstepped the mark too much.

As his public profile grew, so did his confidence. Hailing the Russian military defeat in the Kharkiv region, he publicly suggested in one of his daily videos that the country’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu – a close friend of Putin – should kill himself.

“Indeed, many say that if they were a minister of defense who had authorized such a state of affairs, they could have, as officers, shot themselves,” he said.

His murky death, whether it was a real accident or the result of a plan by Russian security services to get rid of a troublesome loudmouth no longer useful to the authorities, will likely remain a mystery. in the foreseeable future.

As throngs of ecstatic Ukrainians gathered in Kherson’s newly liberated main square on Friday, it was clear, however, that Stremousov’s vision of a Russian city would be buried alongside him.

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