Notorious Putin Critic Fakes His Own Death, Catches Assassin in the ProcessPhoto by Lintao Zhang/Getty Politics Features Arkady Babchenko
This story is straight out of a movie. Hell, if you’ve seen The Dark Knight, it’s basically what happened to Commissioner Jim Gordon. Yesterday, the famed journalist Arkady Babchenko was shot in the back several times and found by his wife. Ayder Muzhdabaev, deputy general manager of Ukrainian TV channel ATR, said that Babchenko died in the ambulance. Today, Babchenko showed up at a news conference. Per Zona Media, a news organization created by two members of the famed political protest band, Pussy Riot:
*note: all quotes from these Russian media sources are translated from Russian using Google Translate
The journalist Arkady Babchenko is alive, the employees of the Security Service of Ukraine have detained the suspect in the preparation of the murder as a result of the special operation. According to the intelligence service, 40 thousand dollars were allocated for the organization of the assassination attempt. The press conference Babchenko broadcast channel 112.
Here they are removing the memorial plaque put up for Babchenko yesterday.
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— ??? ????? (@MBKhMedia) May 30, 2018
He didn’t even tell his wife he was alive, and one of the first things he did as soon as he got in front of the microphone was apologize to her and the rest of his family. They even made up a broken leg backstory to create the facade of a sitting duck for the assassin. Babchenko continued:
“For a month we were preparing an operation, the guys plowed like buffaloes. In fact, from there, they squeezed on the other side, they gave three weeks to execute the order. All this should not have been yesterday, it just coincided. I’m still alive. They will not wait.”
When the whole world thought that one of Vladimir Putin’s staunchest critics was dead, Russia continued their eternal encroachment on Ukraine’s sovereignty, with their ministry criticizing them for being unable to protect their citizens, saying “The level of physical violence and murders of the media workers in this country (Ukraine) has been growing consistently and the investigations do not result in the punishment of the criminals.”
Babchenko placed himself at the forefront of the Kremlin’s ire when his Facebook post denouncing their indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Aleppo, Syria went viral. He followed it up with an article in The Guardian detailing how some of the most powerful forces in Russia’s government began to threaten him:
The first to speak out was Vitaly Milonov, a State Duma deputy who is famous for his homophobia and obscurantism. Milonov called on the powers that be to deprive me and Bozhena Rynska, another journalist who wrote an insufficiently patriotic post on Facebook, of Russian citizenship, to deport us and confiscate our property.
Then Senator Frants Klintsevich spoke out, calling for us to be dealt with “according to the law” and assuring us there would be a “reaction”. And the campaign began to snowball.
All the elements of the propaganda machine were engaged. Channel One, Russia’s most powerful state channel, called on its viewers to create a petition supporting the removal of our citizenship and deportation. In 24 hours it was signed by 130,000 people.
Then, the tabloid channel LifeNews collaborated with the courts to serve me with a fine for not buying a bus ticket – I am a war veteran, and enjoy free public transport as a result. Fines are a familiar tactic in Russia, often issued to stop someone from leaving the country because of their debts.
The head of Ukraine’s security services, Vasyl Hrytsak, said “According to information received by the Ukrainian security service, the killing of Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko was ordered by the Russian security services themselves.” This entire operation was done to expose what Ukraine and Babchenko believed to be Putin’s assassin. This is a big, big deal. For lots of reasons. Not all good. Or bad. Eastern Europe is a complicated place.
Sorry, guys, to me, it’s crossing a line big time. Babchenko is a journalist not a policeman, for Christ sake, and part of our job is trust, whatever Trump&Putin say about fake news. I’m glad he is alive, but he undermined even further the credibility of journalists and the media
— Andrei Soldatov (@AndreiSoldatov) May 30, 2018
I can’t decide if this is the most brilliant or spectacularly moronic thing I’ve ever heard. I think it’s both. Up there with the guy in Guatemala who set up his own murder to make it look like someone else had done it
— max seddon (@maxseddon) May 30, 2018
It’s well-known that Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin carries out extrajudicial killings of its critics across the globe. England provided the latest high profile case, as Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned by a nerve agent developed by the U.S.S.R. in the 1970s and 1980s. The reason they use methods like that is to send a message: your handlers cannot protect you. Well, Babchenko’s sting operation sends a message right back: we’re on to you.
This is absolutely bizarre. A whole host of questions arise from why Ukraine would do something like this. Perhaps the most glaring one is: why did they need to fake Babchenko’s death to catch the assassin?
The only simple reason I can think of: to get the Russian foreign ministry to go on the record under the belief that Babchenko was dead. My two cents on this whole mess is that Ukraine did it in order to create an unimpeachable example of Russian meddling with the goal of impugning Ukrainian sovereignty. Russia has already invaded Eastern Ukraine—setting up something of a permanent military presence in a country they assert is becoming more destabilized by the day. Ukraine can now point to Babchenko as an example of how Russia tries to create the pretenses for invasion—or “anti-terror” operations, as the Kremlin is fond of calling them.
Regardless of how everything shakes out in this still-developing story, this sting operation redefines the tone of the Russian battlefield that has become Eastern Europe. From here on out, every time Russia wants to get rid of a thorn in their side outside their borders, there’s going to be a voice in the back of their head wondering if they’re being set up. We know that a country like Ukraine can get out ahead of the FSB, and now so do they. That could be enough of a deterrent to cool things down, even if only for a little while as the Kremlin figures out its next move after getting pantsed for all the world to see.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.