In a stunning twist, Ukraine’s security service revealed Wednesday that it had staged Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko’s death to protect him from a real assassination plot hatched by the Kremlin.
Famed war correspondent and Putin critic Babchenko, 41, was reported to have been found shot in the back three times in his apartment building’s stairwell Tuesday evening in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.
Less than 24 hours later, however, Babchenko suddenly appeared on Ukranian television, seemingly alive and well, for a press conference.
“Thanks to this operation we were able to foil a cynical plot and document how the Russian security service was planning for this crime,” said the head of Ukraine’s security service, Vasyl Grytsak.
A suspect in the plot is reportedly in custody.
Babchenko has attracted the ire of the Kremlin with his Facebook posts criticizing Vladimir Putin and Russia’s military operations in Syria, as well as his contributions to opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta. He once fought for Russia in the Chechen wars of the 1990s and early 2000s and now works for the Crimean Tatar television network ATR. He fled Russia for Ukraine after being threatened by Kremlin loyalists.
“Special apologies to my wife. Olechka, I am sorry, but there were no options here,” Babchenko said at the press conference. “The operation took two months to prepare. I was told a month ago.”
Presumably as part of the operation, Ukrainian prime minister Volodymyr Groysman blamed the murder on Moscow before Babchenko reappeared Wednesday.
“I am convinced that the Russian totalitarian machine did not forgive him his honesty and principled stance,” Groysman said Tuesday, calling Babchenko “a true friend of Ukraine who was telling the world the truth about Russian aggression. His murderers should be punished.”
“The Putin regime targets those it cannot break or intimidate,” added Anton Gereshcenko, an aide to Ukraine’s interior minister.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had called reports of the murder “very sad,” according to AFP.
“The Ukrainian prime minister is already talking about how it was done by Russian secret services,” Lavrov said before news hit that Babchenko’s death had been faked. “This fashion of conducting international affairs is very sad.”