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"Assassinated" Russian journalist staged death in plot to catch killers

Even his wife apparently didn't know

by David Gilbert and Greg Walters
May 30 2018, 1:15pm

The Russian journalist widely reported to have been assassinated on Tuesday returned from the dead on Wednesday.

Arkady Babchenko, who police said was shot dead outside his apartment in Kiev, shocked everyone when he walked into a press conference in the Ukrainian capital that had been called by the Ukrainian Security Service, and revealed the entire thing had been a sting operation.

Security chief Vasyl Gritsak said his agency had faked Babchenko’s death to catch an assassin, whom he said had been hired by a Russian security service to kill the well-known Russian journalist. Gritsak said the Russians had paid a Ukrainian citizen $40,000 for the killing, and that Ukrainian pulled in an accomplice who had fought in the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. Gritsak said the organizer of the operation had been detained.

Word of Babchenko’s killing on Tuesday had shocked observers and sparked rounds of recrimination between Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman released a statement putting the blame on “Russia’s totalitarian machine,” while Russia’s foreign ministry demanded the Ukrainian officials investigate. Babchenko’s friends and acquaintances had already begun pouring out heartfelt tributes to his work.

The audience at the press conference gasped audibly as Babchenko entered the room. He thanked everyone who was mourning his death and singled out his wife for a special mention, suggesting secrecy had been so tight that even she hadn’t been told.

“Special apologies to my wife,” Babchenko, 41, told the press conference. “Olechka, I am sorry, but there were no options here. The operation took two months to prepare. I was told a month ago. As a result of the operation, one person has been captured, he is being held.”

U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had said he was “appalled by the killing of Babchenko.”

Amnesty International had labeled the killing of Babchenko “a chilling reminder of the deadly risks faced by Russia’s critics and their serious impact on freedom of expression in Ukraine.”

Babchenko’s Facebook page had been switched to “memorializing mode” and a memorial plaque had been erected, which now has to be removed.

According to a police statement Tuesday, Babchenko’s body had been found in a pool of blood by his wife at the entrance to his apartment. Reports indicated he had been returning from buying a loaf of bread. The police even released a sketch of a bearded suspect wearing a baseball cap.

Babchenko fled his home country in 2017 after receiving death threats for his outspoken views. He said in a Guardian article at the time that Russia was “a country I no longer feel safe in.”

Cover image: Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, center, speaks to the media as Vasily Gritsak, head of the Ukrainian Security Service, left, and Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko attend a news conference at the Ukrainian Security Service on Wednesday, May 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)