When the news broke that the prominent Russian journalist and Putin-foe Arkady Babchenko had been murdered in exile in Kiev, it looked like everything was following a sadly familiar script.
As tributes began pouring in, his fellow journalists across the world wrote up their obituaries about the third critic of the Russian leader to be killed in the Ukrainian capital in the last 18 months alone.
Reportedly shot in the back at home, Babchenko’s murder, as Ukraine’s Prime Minister was quick to point out, appeared to have had all the hallmarks of another Kremlin-ordered contract killing.
The Russian government and the many media outlets it controls looked like they were on script too — circling the wagons in a familiarly defensive ring against the accusations that Moscow was responsible.
But then, to the sound of ringing phones at a hastily organized news conference in Kiev, the script was ripped up. Babchenko walked into the room, very much alive. His death was fake news.
Standing next to Ukraine’s top security officials, Babchenko explained that he had just taken part in a sting operation aimed at catching real assassins who had been sent by Moscow to kill him and others.
As the Ukrainian officials revealed the very undead journalist turned special service agent, they looked pleased. But it was, arguably, the Russian government that could not believe its luck.
In the words of “Moskovsky Komsomolec,” one of Russia’s biggest tabloids, the fake death of Babchenko was “a gift for the Kremlin.” [Continue reading…]