An unconfirmed report surfaced on Wednesday that pro-Russian separatist leader Igor Strelkov, who allegedly boasted of shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on social media before recanting, had been wounded in battle in eastern Ukraine, sparking some confusion among foreign policy journalists.
The report was quickly denied by some pro-Russian separatist officials, and what actually happened — if anything — remains unclear.
Strelkov gained international attention after MH-17 was shot down, killing 298 people aboard. A social media post attributed to him had reportedly boasted of shooting down a plane at the same time MH-17 went down. The post was taken down as news about MH-17 spread, and separatists denied that Strelkov even ran the social media account. A long-time Russian nationalist, he had developed a reputation for summary executions for petty theft and fanaticism while taking a leading role in the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine.
ITAR-TASS, a Russian state-owned news agency, reported Wednesday that a separatist news outlet alleged that Strelkov had been badly wounded while fighting with the Ukrainian military. The separatist outlet cited an anonymous source and said that Strelkov was in grave condition.
ITAR-TASS reached out to a top separatist official, who did not confirm or deny the report, but acknowledged that Strelkov had been involved in intense fighting.
“I have no precise information, but this is likely to be true,” the official told the Russian news outlet.
Reuters then reported that another Russian state-owned newspaper had contacted another separatist official, who denied that Strelkov had been injured. “It’s not the first time such rumors appear, and they’ve never been confirmed,” that official said of the reports. “Everything is fine with Igor Strelkov.”
When Reuters contacted a Streklov aide, it was rebuffed: “No comments. I have clear instructions.”
Other foreign policy journalists seemed unsure what to make of the report, other than passing it along.
Donetsk Republic say Strelkov is totally fine, but no word from the man himself. Not clear if DNR has direct contact. http://t.co/CFZaTvL2KG
— max seddon (@maxseddon) August 13, 2014
— greg white (@whitegl) August 13, 2014
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) August 13, 2014