Ukraine's president defends faked murder of Russian journalist

Staged death of Arkady Babchenko prompts questions about alleged ‘hit-list’

Ukraine’s president has robustly defended the decision to fake the death of a journalist, as questions persist over the necessity of the stunt and an alleged “hit-list” of future potential victims.

Last week Ukrainian authorities announced the murder of Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko at his apartment in Kiev, only for Babchenko to show up alive the next day at a press conference about his “murder”.

“If we want to protect the freedom of the press, if we want to protect journalists, this is the kind of technique we need to use,” said president Petro Poroshenko, speaking to Spanish newspaper El País. “Would you have preferred it if the Russian secret services had murdered that journalist?”

Babchenko had received numerous threats on his life, prompting him to flee Russia for Ukraine a year ago. However, neither Poroshenko nor any other Ukrainian official has given any clear indication of how the fake death helped save his life or others, especially given that the supposed shooter was already believed to be cooperating with the SBU, Ukraine’s security service.

Authorities have suggested that the subterfuge was necessary to reveal a further list of victims that the Moscow-based “mastermind” wanted dead. There has been no hard evidence published yet to link the plot to Moscow, or to explain why the fake death was necessary to obtain the names.

Borys Herman, who is currently in jail on suspicion of hiring the hitman to kill Babchenko, has also claimed he was working for the Ukrainian security services all along, adding further confusion to the case.

Poroshenko promised that the SBU would show its cards soon: “They arrested the guilty party and, in the very near future, they will show where the money and orders came from, and the lists of journalists to kill.”

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian website published what it said was the list of potential targets, which included 47 names of journalists and activists. It was not clear whether the list was genuine, but some of those named confirmed they had been told by the SBU that they were potential future victims.

“I can confirm that I was at the SBU and they informed me about this, after I signed a non-disclosure agreement,” Olesya Yakhno, whose name appears on the list, said in a Facebook post. She suggested a potential series of hits could be aimed at destabilising Ukraine ahead of presidential elections due next year.

“The year before the 2019 elections is a very risky and difficult period for Ukraine when it comes to attempts at destabilisation and creating chaos,” she said. “Not against a particular politician, but against Ukraine as a state.”

Others were more sceptical. Ekaterina Sergatskova, a Kiev-based journalist on the list, said she had been told to report to the SBU, but when she did so on Tuesday was given a document that said she was a witness in the Babchenko case.

“What could I possibly know about the case? During questioning I understood absolutely nothing: not why I am supposedly a witness, not why I was ordered to report to the SBU. There were no questions about the actual case and no evidence to show that I was in any danger,” she said in a Facebook post.

Radio Free Europe said it spoke to three of the people on the list on condition of anonymity. All three said they had been told to sign a non-disclosure agreement by the SBU and offered protection, which they rejected. One said they had also been questioned about their political views.


Shaun Walker in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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