This is one of the more bizarre incidents you’ll read of this year.
Ukrainian authorities said on Monday that a prominent Russian military reporter, Arkady Babchenko, had been shot dead in his own apartment in Kiev. It was reported that his wife found him bleeding from several gunshot wounds but that by the time he reached the hospital he had died.
Then, at a press conference today, authorities announced that they had solved the case and, to the astonishment of assembled reporters, in walked Babchenko to say he had faked his own death to avoid being murdered.
He apologized to his wife, Olechka — who on Tuesday was reported to have found him bleeding to death at his apartment — for the “hell” she had gone through. Ukrainian officials offered a jaw-dropping explanation for his so-called death: to expose a Russian plot against him.
Two people, suspected of being the person who ordered the hit and the potential assassin, are in the custody of the security services, spokeswoman for the Ukraine Prosecutor General, Larisa Sargan, said later Wednesday.
The elaborate ruse raised many questions. Chief among them, why was it necessary to go to such extraordinary lengths to expose the plot, who was in on it, and what did Olechka Babchenko really see when she found the bleeding body of her husband?
Explanations were not forthcoming at the surreal press conference:
Babchenko said he became convinced that Russian government agencies were involved in the alleged plot when he was shown his passport photo and personal documents, which he said could have been accessed by Russian special services.
“An offer was made to take part in this special operation,” Babchenko said. “I had no choice but to cooperate.”
The Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, later revealed more details about the alleged plot. According to a statement released by the SBU, Russian special services recruited a Ukrainian citizen — identified only as “G” — who was tasked with finding, for a payment, perpetrators for a number of high-impact terrorist acts, including the assassination of Babchenko.
“He proposed to his friend, a former member of the ATO in the east of Ukraine, to execute, for $30,000, the contract kill on a Russian journalist, Arkady Babchenko. He has already transferred a deposit of $15,000,” said Vasyl Hrytsak.
According to the SBU, “G” also received a dossier on Babchenko with detailed information about his journalistic work and private life, including data on the target himself, his wife, children and parents. Information included phone numbers, bank account details and passport data, the SBU said.
The Russian foreign ministry denied any involvement in a hit on Babchenko, calling it an “anti-Russian provocation.” An objective analysis of this incident would have to say that this is a definite possibility. But it is also more than possible that Vladimir Putin, tired of Babchenko’s strident opposition, tried to off another journalist. Since 2003, 11 anti-Putin journalists have been murdered in Russia and Ukraine. If you believe all those deaths are a coincidence, I have a drawbridge over the Chicago River I’d like to sell you.