Ukraine sought to justify faking the death of an anti-Kremlin journalist who appeared alive and well at a press conference in Kiev less than 24 hours after he was “murdered,” citing an alleged Russian plot to kill him.
Onlookers gasped and applauded as Arkady Babchenko re-appeared, introduced by the head of Ukraine’s security service, who said the murder had been staged in order to foil an attempt on his life by Moscow.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Ukraine said the reporter had died from three gunshots to the back in the stairwell of his apartment building in a contract-style killing in a case that provoked an outpouring of grief and a diplomatic spat.
“Thanks to this operation we were able to foil a cynical plot and document how the Russian security service was planning for this crime,” security service head Vasyl Grytsak said at the press conference.
Grytsak announced authorities had arrested the alleged mastermind of the plot, saying a Ukrainian citizen named only by the initial G. had offered to pay a hitman to carry out the killing after being recruited by Russian special forces and paid $40,000.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko later met Babchenko and wrote triumphantly on Facebook that “millions of people are celebrating” the journalist’s new lease of life.
The planned attack was “organized from Russian territory” with the aim of “destabilising the situation in Ukraine” and “killing one whom Russia fears most of all,” he said.
“Thanks to Arkady and the Ukrainian security chiefs, for not allowing this scenario to be carried out in our country.”
Anton Guerachtchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, likened the plot to a story from a crime novel, saying on Facebook that “Sherlock Holmes successfully used the method of staging his own death to efficiently solve complicated crimes.”
But Moscow, later Wednesday, condemned the plot, with the foreign ministry saying “now the true motives are beginning to be revealed for this staging, which is totally obviously yet another anti-Russian provocation.”
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said it was “great news” that Babchenko was alive but on Twitter she slammed the “propagandistic effect” of the set-up.
Grytsak, during his press conference, thanked Babchenko and his family, who he said were in the loop about the secret operation. The reporter, however, apologized to his wife for putting her through “this hell she had to live through for three days…but there was no other option.”—Agencies