12th anti-Putin Russian journalist murdered (Update: Death was faked to foil Kremlin plot)
Since 2003, 11 anti-Putin journalists had been murdered in Russia and Ukraine. Yesterday, Arkady Babchenko, a prominent military reporter and fierce critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin, was gunned down in his apartment in Kiev.
Babchenko became the 12th.
The Russian government denies that it had anything to do with the killing.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has rejected a Ukrainian allegation that Moscow was behind the murder of a dissident Russian journalist in Kiev, calling it part of an anti-Russian campaign, according to Moscow media reports.
Arkady Babchenko, a critic of President Vladimir Putin, was shot dead in Ukraine on Tuesday, where he had fled into exile after a series of threats. Police in Kiev said the high-profile murder may have been linked to his reporting.
Lavrov said it was "very sad" that Moscow has been accused of the murder, according to Agence France-Presse.
Note that Mr. Lavrov did not express regret at the death of the journalist, only that Moscow had been accused of his murder.
Babchenko, a veteran Russian war correspondent, was shot three times in the back as he left his apartment to buy bread. He was found bleeding by his wife. Babchenko, 41, died in the ambulance to the hospital, a government official said.
The killing appeared to be targeted. The gunman had apparently laid [sic] in wait for him outside his apartment. The head of Ukraine's police force said that two motives were being considered: his "professional work and civil position". Police on Tuesday evening had not named a suspect, but did post a sketch of a bearded man in a baseball hat.
Babchenko had grown highly critical of the Russian government in recent years. He criticised Putin's annexation of Crimea and his support for the separatists of south-east Ukraine. He left Russia in February 2017, writing that it was "a country I no longer feel safe in".
Alexey Navalny, the Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, described Babchenko's murder as "shocking". "I have no doubt that the cause of this monstrous crime was Arkady's public political position and his professional journalistic activities," Navalny wrote.
Navalny has a target on his back as well. He has been threatened several times, and given Putin's track record with tolerating opposition politicians, no one would be surprised if he were gunned down.
Babchenko joined the military as a conscript in the 1990s and fought in the first Chechen war. He enlisted in the second Chechen war and also fought on the side of Russia. But he became a prominent critic of the Russian president in recent years and wrote several books on Moscow's military. His columns were widely read in Ukraine.
Some might claim that it's pure coincidence that all of these reporters who were critics of Putin end up murdered. The possibility cannot be dismissed. And there may be criminal elements that Babchenko and other reporters angered.
But with so many of these murders unsolved, you have to think someone high up in the Russian government is pulling the strings.
The Associated Press is reporting that Babchenko is a live and faked his death to foil a plot to kill him by the Kremlin:
Ukrainian police said Tuesday that Babchenko, a strong critic of the Kremlin, was shot multiple times in the back Tuesday and found bleeding there by his wife. Authorities said they suspected he was killed because of his work.
Babchenko apologized to his wife, who he said was not briefed on the scheme in advance, “for the hell she had to go through in the past two days. There was no choice there, either.”
Neither he nor Vasyl Gritsak, head of the Ukrainian Security Service, provided details of how they staged Babchenko’s injuries or made his wife believe he was dead.
The movie-like twist came as Gritsak convened the news conference to announce that the security agency and the police had solved Babchenko’s reported slaying. He then confused everyone there by inviting the supposed slaying into the room.
To applause and gasps, Babchenko took the floor and apologized to the friends and family who mourned for him and were unaware of the plan.
“I’m still alive,” he said. “I know that sickening feeling when you bury a colleague. I’m sorry you had to go through this but there was no other way.”
Before ushering Babchenko into the room, Gritsak said investigators had identified a Ukrainian citizen who allegedly was paid $40,000 by the Russian security service to organize and carry out the hit. The unidentified Ukrainian man in turn allegedly hired an acquaintance to be the gunman, Gritsak said.
Only in Putin's Russia.