Nearly 24 hours after the announcement of his death, Russian journalist and Kremlin critic Arkady Babchenko reappeared alive on Wednesday in Kiev claiming that his “murder” was staged in order to foil a planned assassination attempt sponsored by Russia.
In an unlikely turnaround, the former Russian soldier, exiled to Kiev where he said he was regularly threatened, appeared in front of the cameras and explained that he himself had participated in a staging as part of an special operation that had been ongoing for two months.
Arkady’s appearance was met with applause and incredulous exclamations from his colleagues.
“I would really like to thank the Ukrainian Security Services for saving my life,” he said. “I would like to apologise to my wife for the hell she lived for two days.”
The Ukrainian security forces, however, assured that his family was aware of the operation, which aimed to foil an assassination attempt for which a man presented as the “organiser” was arrested.
“Thanks to this operation, we managed to foil a cynical provocation and document the preparations for this crime by the Russian special services,” Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) head Vassyl Grytsak told journalists.
“We arrested the organiser of this crime three hours ago in Kiev,” Grytsak said, adding that the man had received $40,000 from Russian “special services” to prepare for the journalist’s murder.
The announcement of the death of Arkady Babchenko, a virulent Kremlin critic, who was exiled to Kiev after being threatened in Russia, had further stoked tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
On Tuesday evening, the police announced that the 41-year-old reporter had been shot several times in the back when he arrived at his apartment in Kiev.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman immediately questioned “the Russian totalitarian machine”, triggering denials from Moscow.
Director of Russian Security Services (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov described the Ukrainian accusations as “absurd” and “provocative”. The Kremlin has “strongly condemned” the murder and said it “hopes for a real investigation.”
Babchenko said he was threatened after denouncing Russia’s role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which urged Ukraine and Russia to “cooperate” to shed light on this “despicable act” rather than “engage in a dangerous war of information,” condemned the staged murder as “heartbreaking.”
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also condemned the actions of the Ukrainian authorities.
“By misleadingly spreading the news of Babchenko’s assassination, the Ukrainian authorities have seriously undermined the credibility of the information, and their communication runs the risk of being mistaken for a propaganda operation,” said Philippe Leruth, President of the IFJ.