The big news from Kiev yesterday was the murder of Russian journalist and Chechen War veteran Arkady Babchenko, who in 2017 had left Russia and gone to live in Ukraine. According to reports, his wife found him bleeding on the street outside their home. He had been shot several times in the back, and died a short while later. Once the news became public, Ukrainian officials lined up to blame the Russian government for the murder. Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, for instance, referred to Babchenko’s last post on Facebook, saying:
This is the last post of Arkady Babchenko. Ten hours ago he wrote about his second birthday. And then they killed him. I am confident that the Russian totalitarian machine did not forgive him his honesty and principled stance. He was a true friend of Ukraine who told the world the truth about Russian aggression.
Except, it turns out that Babchenko isn’t dead after all. As the Kyiv Post reports:
Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist who was reportedly killed in Kyiv on May 29 and widely mourned, stood up alive at the office of Ukraine’s State Security Service on May 30, claiming his death was faked in a special operation to capture the actual killer.
Babchenko thanked the security services of Ukraine [SBU] and asked his friends and his wife, who was also unaware of the operation, to forgive him for the suffering they had to endure thinking that he had been dead.
According to the SBU, the Russian special services ordered the murder of Babchenko and paid an unnamed Ukrainian citizen, $40,000 to organize the murder. He searched for a killer to perform the murder among the Ukrainian veterans of the war in Donbas. According to the SBU, he eventually hired a man, paying him $30,000 for the murder, but the SBU learned about the operation, recruited the hired “killer” as a double agent and stage the murder in order to arrest the organizer.
The Ukrainian organizer was detained following the staged murder. According to the SBU, he was going to organize killings of 30 Russian citizens in Ukraine on Russian special services’ order, with Babchenko being the first one.
My first thought on this is: what sort of guy allows his wife to find him apparently bleeding to death outside his home and then allows her to believe that he has died from his wounds? I find this quite staggering. My second thought is: why should we believe anything the Ukrainian authorities say about this matter? After all, they’ve just admitted lying about Babchenko’s murder. They even went so far as to release false information about the murder weapon, issuing a report that three bullet casings from a Makarov pistol had been found near the scene. At this point, they can hardly be considered a reliable source of news.
The plots being uncovered by the SBU keep getting odder and odder. Just before the Babchenko case, for instance, we had the arrest of Rada Deputy Nadia Savchenko for an alleged conspiracy to blow up the Ukrainian parliament and then charge into whatever would be left of the building with machineguns to mow down any survivors. Frankly, I am having problems knowing what to make of all this. It is beyond bizarre.
Perhaps Ukraine really is a hotbed of coup plots and murderous Russian conspiracies. Alternatively, the Ukrainian state has lost all semblance of normality and is resorting to the strangest methods in order to maintain an atmosphere of fear and external threat. I’m not in a position to say which is true, but I strongly suspect that many Russians will draw the latter conclusion and see the Babchenko case as further proof that the Ukrainian state has become entirely deranged. Even if the Ukrainian claims are true, this isn’t a normal way of doing business, and Kiev’s credibility will be damaged as a result.