Arkady Babchenko's fake murder 'plays into the hands' of Moscow

Kremlin-backed RT mocks journalists who fear incident undermines trust in media

The unexpected resurrection of the anti-Putin journalist Arkady Babchenko, who said he participated in a Ukrainian plot to fake his death, has delighted pro-Moscow news outlets and online activists who feel they finally have clear-cut evidence of a “false flag” media manipulation operation by a rival state.

RT, the Kremlin-backed news channel which broadcasts in the UK, swiftly turned to Afshin Rattansi, the host of its Going Underground programme, for reaction. He seized on the news, mocking the concerns of journalists at other outlets who feared this incident would undermine trust in the media.

“What is clear that the public in Nato nations are rapidly losing any faith in the journalism they’re being told by their television, radio and online,” he said, criticising the likes of the CNN and the BBC. “What they should be doing is a lot of soul-searching.”

He added: “Huge apologies have to be made by all these organisations as to why they would take their news, without checking, from forces which would want to do Russia harm.”

RT correspondent Hanisha Sethi drew parallels with previous occasions when Moscow was accused of involvement in the deaths of prominent people in Ukraine.

“Let’s cast our mind back to other incidents when Russia has been falsely blamed in the past,” she said, listing the deaths of former Russian MP Denis Voronenkov, pro-Russia journalist Olez Bezina and reporter Pavel Sheremet. Her report suggested the latest case was conclusive evidence of a pattern of behaviour on behalf of the Ukrainian state.

RT, which was originally known as Russia Today and has long defined itself in opposition to established media organisations, also connected Babchenko to western news outlets, describing him as “contributor” to the BBC and the Guardian. Babchenko, who largely writes in his native Russian, has written two pieces for the Guardian in the last decade.

People who study Russia said the incident is an enormous boost to the argument, pushed in domestic media and on channels such as RT, that western news outlets were seeking to smear the country at all costs. Pro-Kremlin organisations have repeatedly challenged western countries’ accounts on incidents such as the downing of the MH17 aircraft and the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury.

Journalists drink champagne in Kiev
Journalists drink champagne in Kiev after learning that Arkady Babchenko hadn’t been murdered and was alive and well. Photograph: Stepan Franko/EPA

“This plays right into Russian hands and supports the narrative that these acts are ‘provocations’ by their opponents,” said Stephen Hutchings, professor of Russian studies at the University of Manchester. “It’s unbelievable idiocy on the part of the Ukrainian intelligence services.”

RT’s website also adopted a world-weary tone when summarising the events.

“After reports of Babchenko’s killing, some Ukrainian officials rushed to accuse Russian intelligence services of masterminding the assassination,” its news report said. “It was not immediately clear whether those officials did so as part of the spectacle or simply followed their usual habit of pinning every high-profile crime in Ukraine on Moscow.”

Kevin Rothrock, an English-language editor with the Russian news site Meduza, said the case undermined trust in reporting on the country: “By lying to the media, Babchenko and the Ukrainian authorities have made fools of everyone who reported yesterday’s ‘murder’. I apologise to all my followers for circulating what turns out to be total baloney. The lesson here is to distrust reports from Ukraine.”

У меня кошка когда на кухне под столом насрет, ровно такой вид имеет.

— Маргарита Симоньян (@M_Simonyan) May 30, 2018

Russian social media sites were quickly filled with memes mocking Babchenko, while RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan tweeted a picture from his Kiev press conference with a blunt caption that summarised the reaction of much of the Russian internet.

“I have a cat which makes this face when it shits under the kitchen table,” she said.


Jim Waterson

The GuardianTramp

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