Friday, June 01, 2018

 Rehearsal for an Assassination

"I have buried many friends and colleagues and I know the sickening feeling. I am sorry you had to experience it. But there was no other way. An offer was made to take part in this special operation. I had no choice but to cooperate."
"[I am sorry too] for the hell she [Babcheko's wife] had to go through in the past two days. There was no choice there, either."
"The important thing is my life has been saved and other, bigger terrorist attacks have been thwarted."
Russian journalist, Arkady Babchenko, Ukraine
Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, who was shot dead in Ukraine on 29 May 2018.
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Babchenko covering the Maidan protests in Kiev in 2014

He made world news yesterday, as yet another critic of Vladimir V. Putin and the Kremlin earning his just desserts by an early, spectacular death. Yet another Russian dissident, another journalist reaping the reward for verbally jousting with Mr. Putin's government. Obituary-writers feverishly collected all the information they could to do justice to the need to praise his courage and determination, only to have it end in a 41-year-old being ruthlessly murdered at the behest of a tyrannical government.

Flowers lie under a picture of Babchenko placed on the memorial wall of Moscow's journalists house before he was revealed to be alive.
Flowers lie under a picture of Babchenko placed on the memorial wall of Moscow's journalists house before he was revealed to be alive.

The news, eliciting gasps of disbelief, horror and condemnation from all sources, linking the unfortunate death-by-assassination of a journalist to a government order, was reproduced in the international media. Colleagues made plans to attend the funeral. World leaders made waves in pronouncing their dismay and disgust that Russia had, once again, endeared itself to the global community. And then the head of the Ukraine Security Service called a press conference.e

Vasily Gritsak announced that the grisly murder hadn't really happened; it was staged, for a purpose. Enter Babchenko. Smiling and apologetic. The faked killing, explained the Security Service head, was an opportunity for Ukrainian intelligence agents who had been following a plot to kill Babchenko, to apprehend the assassins in the act as it were, to compile evidence linking them to their handlers in Russia.

The journalist's death had been announced by Kyiv Police Chief Andriy Krishehensko, describing how the journalist's wife discovered her husband bleeding at the door of their apartment building in Kyiv. Unfortunately, the man died en route to hospital. An adviser to the interior minister added that the assailant had waited on a staircase in the apartment building, to shoot Babchenko in the back after he had exited the apartment on his way to buy bread nearby.

Babchenko (center) appears at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

It happened to be the fourth anniversary of Babchenko's having missed a flight on a Ukrainian military helicopter shot down in the conflict between Ukraine and ethnic Russian Ukrainian separatists in eastern Ukraine. From what Babchenko explained, Ukraine's law enforcement had become aware for the past two months of a contract to kill the journalist. A Ukrainian, they charge, was given $40,000 to organize the hit, enabling him to hire a gunman.

And here is where the story breaks down: That Russian security services had assigned the Ukrainian to procure quantities of weapons and explosives inclusive of 300 AK-47 rifles and "hundreds of kilos of explosives" to perpetrate acts of terrorism in Ukraine. Russia possesses copious amounts of weapons and explosives; it infamously supplied  them to the rebels in Donetsk, including a BUK missile. Why would you task a Ukrainian with locating what they themselves could provide him with?

As for the staging of the assassination to enable the Ukraine police to nab a suspect in the act, it sounds rather hollow. What they have done in that process is to negate much sympathy for both Ukraine and the journalist for resorting to such a ridiculously clumsy ploy, one that undermines in fact, journalist safety and minimizes the constant threats they face. The event is an embarrassment, an awkwardly planned device that paints the Ukraine policing services in an unfortunate, amateurish position of ridicule.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (left) and Arkady Babchenko in Kiev, Ukraine. Photo: 30 May 2018
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (left) met Arkady Babchenko on Wednesday   Reuters

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