According to accusations levied by the U.K. government in March, individuals acting under orders from the Russian government attempted to assassinate a former Russian military intelligence officer turned MI5 spy on U.K. soil earlier this year, drawing headlines the world over thanks to their brazen use of a Soviet era nerve agent in the attempt. The headlines and fervor seemed to indicate that such an assassination attempt must be out of the ordinary even for Putin’s aggressive regime, but the truth of the matter couldn’t be further from the truth. Russia, and Putin’s administration in particular, has a long history of assassinations on foreign soil — and as SOFREP has covered before, the victims are often journalists that have proven critical of the Kremlin.
On Tuesday, it appeared that another such assassination had occurred, when reports of the shooting death of another Russian journalist and prominent Putin critic emerged from Kiev. According to official statements from law enforcement officials at the time, Arkady Babchenko was shot in the back and had died in the ambulance while en route to the hospital. In an official statement that soon followed, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman implied that the Russian government had been involved in the assassination, adding that Babchenko had fled Russia last year out of fear for his life. After fleeing to Ukraine, where he found work as the host on a Crimean Tatar TV station, he continued to receive regular threats against him and his family from Russian individuals, though Babchenko himself has been quoted as saying he didn’t take those threats very seriously. It seems, however, that he likely should have.
“I’m sure that the Russian totalitarian machine did not forgive him his honesty and his fidelity to principle,” Groysman added in a Facebook post soon thereafter. “Best friend of Ukraine, who told the truth about Russian aggression to the world. The murderers must be punished!”
Ukraine authorities then released a sketch of the suspected shooter, who wore a baseball cap and sported a beard. A manhunt was launched and Russian officials spatted with Ukrainian ones in public statements and social media posts …
And it was all a ruse.
On Wednesday, Babchenko appeared, very much alive, on live television alongside some of the same law enforcement officials that had earlier announced his death. Ukraine’s Security Service had apparently staged the entire murder in an effort to foil what they claim was a real plot being enacted by the Russian government. The audience gasped as Babchenko approached the microphone, and like a scene from a movie, apologized to his friends, colleagues, and even his wife — all of whom believed he had been killed earlier this week.
“I’m still alive. I know that sickening feeling when you bury a colleague. I’m sorry you had to go through this but there was no other way,” he said before apologizing to his wife “for the hell she had to go through in the past two days. There was no choice there, either.”
Neither Babchenko nor the Ukraine officials at the press conference would delve too deeply into the alleged contract on the journalist’s head, though they did claim that they had identified the Ukrainian citizen that had been paid $40,000 to carry out the killing.
“The important thing is my life has been saved and other, bigger terrorist attacks have been thwarted,” he said.
Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry responded to reports that Babchenko was still alive by calling the entire ordeal a “propaganda exercise.” Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been extremely high since Russia’s military annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Featured image: Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko reacts during a news conference at the Ukrainian Security Service on Wednesday, May 30, 2018. Babchenko turned up at a news conference in the Ukrainian capital Wednesday less than 24 hours after police reported he had been shot and killed at his Kiev apartment building. The country’s security services said Babchenko’s death was faked to foil a plot to take his life. | AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky