First interview after staged murder: Russian journalist Babchenko explains why he played own death

Arkady Babchenko giving the first interview after he turned up alive after a staged murder. Photo: screenshot from Reuters broadcast, as per hromadske.ua 

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Russian journalist and fierce Putin critic Arkady Babchenko, the staged “assassination” of whom the Ukrainian Secret Service (SBU) staged as part of a sting operation on 29 May, gave his first interview after turning up alive the next day at a press conference. In the 31-minute interview, broadcast by Reuters, he answers questions from his colleagues about his experience with the SBU, who convinced him to take part in his own staged murder when they discovered that a real assassination was planned to take place against him. Opinions about the operation varied: some praised the SBU for preventing the murder of yet another journalist and Russian opposition figure in Ukraine, while some derided the Ukrainian government for misleading the world about an attack on a journalist. Here are the key messages of Babchenko’s interview, helpfully summarized by UkraineWorld. Passages in quotation marks are his quotes. Passages without quotation marks retell his words but are not exact quotes.

1. As a result of this operation: “There is a corpus delicti, components of an accomplished crime: a person has delivered money for an accomplished crime, and this person has been captured.”

2. About why he took part in the operation: “I wanted these people to be captured, and I wanted there to be evidence of it.”

3. About critics of the method: “Everyone who says that this undermines trust in journalism: let me ask – how would you react? How would you react if they come to you and say ‘you are the target.’ If they come to you, show you your photograph, the picture of the organizer, the picture of your killer, and will ask you: do you want to survive, or you want to keep up the ethics and purity, and maintain the morality of your profession?”

4. He also says there was a list of 30 Russian opposition figures targeted, and he was the first one, but only to create “buzz,” and he was considered as a minor target, not the major one.

5. He now feels protected.

6. His closest relatives had known about the operation.

7. He believes that the operation destroyed the murdering scheme of organizers, and they will need time to restore it (find the executors, mediators, etc).

8. He said he was afraid all the time during the operation, and “stopped fearing only in the morgue.”

9. “This country [Ukraine] has accomplished an operation to save my life. I am grateful for that.”

10. Regarding the murder of Belarusian journalist Pavlo Sheremet, which took place in Kyiv in 2016 and has not been solved yet: “After this situation, I stopped asking questions about [the murder of] Sheremet. People [from Russia] enter [Ukraine], money enters Ukraine, the situation is being destabilized [by Russians]. This implies that he has a subjective feeling that Russians are behind Sheremet’s murder.

11. He mocks the version that the staged murder was a provocation by the SBU: so many people were involved into the operation (SBU, police, hospital, special forces, top officials, including the president) that it would be strange to believe they had nothing else to do than plan this provocation, he says.

12. At the same time, he does not know what the staging of the murder achieved.

13. “I am a journalist and I know how to write articles. They are people knowing how to hold special operations. They will not lecture me on how to write articles, and I will not lecture them how to hold special operations.”

14. “At a certain moment, I just believed them [SBU].”

15. In 2017, his sources in Russia warned him that he would be the target of information campaign against him. And everything happened as they said. “Afterwards, when someone comes to you and says they want to kill you, I prefer to believe them.”

16. “My task was not to make you believe it or not, my task was to make myself and my family safe. Journalistic standards are is the last thing I was thinking about at this moment.”

17. “I hate Putin. He is responsible for thousands of lives. I buried my colleagues, my acquaintances, my friends. I am tired of burying them.”

On 30 May, Arkady Babchenko appeared alive at a press conference dedicated to his murder. The SBU and Prosecutor General informed that as a result of the operation, the middleman of the murder had been detained.

Arkady Babchenko is a Russian military journalist who was fiercely critical of Vladimir Putin’s regime. He emigrated from Russian in 2017 after the start of a repression campaign against him. Presently, he works as a host of a show on the Crimean Tatar channel ATR in Kyiv.

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