A dissident Russian journalist reported murdered in Kiev on Tuesday dramatically reappeared alive on Wednesday during a televised briefing by Ukrainian state security about the killing, which they then said they had faked.
Vasily Gritsak, head of the Ukrainian Security Service, told a news conference on Wednesday the agency faked Babchenko’s death to catch those who were trying to kill him.
Kiev and national police had said Babchenko, a strong critic of the Kremlin, was shot multiple times in the back at his apartment building and found bleeding by his wife.
He showed up at Gritsak’s new conference on Wednesday and thanked everyone who was mourning his death.
Babchenko, 41, one of Russia’s best-known war reporters, spoke and wrote year about leaving the country because of repeated threats that he and his family would be harmed.
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The Kremlin on Wednesday described an allegation by Ukraine that it was behind the murder of a dissident Russian journalist in Kiev as an anti-Russian smear and demanded that Ukraine conduct a genuine investigation into the killing.
Babchenko was reportedly shot dead on Tuesday in the Ukrainian capital, where he lived in exile. He fled Russia after he received threats for saying he did not mourn the victims of a Russian defense ministry plane crash in 2016.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described allegations by Ukrainian government officials that Moscow was behind the murder as "the height of cynicism" and said he hoped other countries would lean on Kiev to do more to protect journalists.
Babchenko left Russia in early 2017 after being warned that the government was angry with him over a Facebook post about the crash of a Russian plane en route to Syria. There were 92 people aboard the plane, including members of the Red Army Choir.
“I was called and warned a few times,” Babchenko said in an interview with Haaretz magazine in the summer of 2017, while he was visiting Tel Aviv. “The first time, they warned me that there would be persecution in the wake of my post – and everything went as scheduled: Over the weekend, a campaign was launched against me and against [the journalist and blogger] Bozhena Rynska, with suggestions ‘to shoot us like mad dogs.’ The second time, I was warned that provocations were liable to occur on February 7, and that this time the use of force was also a possibility.
Again everything played out on schedule. That day, searches were conducted at five places. They broke into the apartment of [activist] Mark Gelperin; he jumped out the window, but they caught him and took him to Lubyanka [prison], just as one would have expected. They didn’t come to me that day.”
After the third warning, in which he was told the authorities were considering opening a criminal investigation against him, Babchenko decided to leave Russia. Over the last year, he has lived in Prague, Tel Aviv and, for the past several months, Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Security Service, the SBU, said it received information about a plot to kill 30 people in Ukraine, including Babchenko, but had thwarted it.
The security service declined to say who the other 29 people were but said it had detained a Ukrainian citizen recruited by Russia to find someone to kill Babchenko. He was given $40,000 to organise the murder, $30,000 for the killer and $10,000 for being an intermediary, the SBU said.
The detained man had been ordered to buy weapons, including 300 Kalashnikovs, grenade launchers, and explosives which were to be stashed in central Ukraine, it added. A video of the man being detained was shown to reporters.
Russian state media mocked Ukraine for solving a murder it had staged itself, while the Russian Foreign ministry said it was happy that Babchenko was alive, but said Ukraine has used his story as propaganda.