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Mixed reaction over journalist who faked his own death

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Ukraine defends ruse faking journalist's murder, others criticise alarmist stunt

Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, listens for a question during a news conference with Vasily Gritsak, head of the Ukrainian Security Service and Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko 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. Picture: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

Ukraine on Thursday defended the
action of its state security services in faking the death of a
Russian dissident journalist after international criticism,
saying the bizarre ruse had been essential for protecting him.

Ukraine revealed on Wednesday that it had stage-managed the
fake murder of Arkady Babchenko, a critic of the Kremlin who
they said had been targeted by hit-men hired by Russia, in order
to trace a trail back to Russia and expose plans for his, and
other, state-sponsored assassinations.

But some criticised the incident, which involved the phoney
distribution of lurid details about his shooting and photographs
showing him apparently lying in a pool of blood, as a stunt in
poor taste which had sparked a false outpouring of grief and
finger-pointing at Russia.

Some said the operation had hurt Kiev’s credibility and
played to Russian prejudices about Ukraine.

“Relieved that Arkadiy #Babchenko is alive!” the office of
the OSCE’s Harlem Desir tweeted. “I deplore the decision to
spread false information on the life of a journalist. It is the
duty of the state to provide correct information to the public.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom who had expressed
horror at Babchenko’s earlier reported murder, tweeted: “I am of
course relieved that Arkady Babchenko is alive and well. Others
are better placed to comment on the operation conducted by the
Ukrainian Security Service.”

Michael Carpenter, the former US Deputy Assistant
Secretary of Defence, wrote on Twitter that “the cost in terms
of the credibility of gov institutions is huge. Russia will
exploit the hell out of this.”

However, he later added: “If the operation helped expose the
chain of Russian intelligence operatives involved in this plot,
it was well worth it.”

President Petro Poroshenko was among those who defended the
ruse. In a video showing him greeting Babchenko, he said: “I am
absolutely convinced there was no other way. You’re a great
guy.”

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, in a sharp reaction, said he
was surprised and shocked by “pseudo-moral” criticism from
abroad and he defended a successful operation to save
Babchenko’s life.

“If it had been possible to do such operations on other
occasions we would do it. We saved a life, broke a potential
network … that’s enough for us to be satisfied,” he told
journalists.

Ukraine’s embassy in London, in a comment, asked for
understanding from its international partners even when it took
“unorthodox approaches” to fend off Russia’s hybrid attempts at
destabilisation.

Babchenko himself, who was greeted with a hug by Poroshenko
on Wednesday night, thanked the security service for saving his
life and was robust in defending their actions.

“The English press says operation has done more harm than
good?” he said on Facebook. “You want good? Give me a UK
passport and protection. And then you can lecture me how to save
my family.”

“LIKE SHERLOCK HOLMES”

Anton Gerashchenko, a prominent lawmaker and adviser to the
interior minister, who provided details of Babchenko’s “murder”
on Tuesday night said he had been shot in the back by a man
hiding in a stairwell, after returning home in Kiev from buying
bread. His wife, it was said, found him in a pool of blood.

Gerashchenko reappeared on Wednesday explaining that a
cloak-and-dagger operation had been necessary to trace the trail
from the would-be assassin to his handlers.

They had to believe the plan to kill Babchenko had succeeded
“and force them to take a number of actions that will be
documented by the investigation,” he wrote on Facebook.

“After all, Arthur Conan Doyle’s hero Sherlock Holmes
successfully used the method of staging his own death for the
effective investigation of complex and intricate crimes. No
matter how painful it was for his family and Dr. Watson.”

Very few people knew about the plan, in order to prevent any
information leaking, he said. A picture of Babchenko lying in a
pool of blood was released, police made a series of statements
about their investigation and issued a sketch of the killer.

The head of the Ukrainian state security service (SBU),
Vasyl Hrytsak, said on Wednesday that it had received
information about a plot to kill Babchenko.

The SBU’s covert operation allowed it “to gather irrefutable
evidence of the terrorist activities of Russian special services
on the territory of Ukraine.” The security service detained a
Ukrainian citizen who it said was recruited by Russia to find
someone to kill Babchenko.

He also made clear that Babchenko’s wife had prior knowledge
about the operation. “His family knew what measures we were
taking, Arkady was warned in advance. He was under our control.
The family also knew about everything.”

After Babchenko’s reported murder, the Ukrainian Prime
Minister condemned the Russian state and a string of friendly
countries produced statements in sympathy. Foreign Minister
Pavlo Klimkin, who said he was not kept in the loop, spoke about
the murder at the United Nations in New York.

Desir, the office of the Organization for Security and
Co-operation in Europe’s representative on media freedom, flew
to Kiev to meet Babchenko’s colleagues in a show of solidarity.

Babchenko on Wednesday recounted how the SBU had approached
him a month ago to say someone had been paid $40,000 to carry
out a hit job on him. They showed him documents that the
would-be killers had, including his photo and passport details.

The Russians pressed the would-be assassin to carry out the
order quickly but the Ukrainians managed to get the operation
delayed with a series of obstacles, such as pretending that
Babchenko had broken his leg or had on a trip abroad, he said.

They managed to delay the Russian attempt on Babchenko until
after the Champions League soccer final, which Kiev hosted last
weekend, the authorities said.

– Reuters