Reports rang out early Wednesday morning that Russian journalist and outspoken critic of the Kremlin, Arkady Babchenko, was found bleeding to death at his Ukrainian home, apparently shot several times in the back. According to police, he succumbed to his injuries in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
During a press conference the next day, Babchenko himself – still alive and well – waltzed into a room full of his fellow journalists to the sound of gasps. Like a magician’s great reveal at the end of a show, the Ukrainian media (and the world at large) had just been duped.
It turns out that for the last month, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) had been in contact with Babchenko and notified him about a coming attempt on his life. They worked together to try and catch those who threatened his life. “An offer was made to take part in this special operation,” Babchenko said, adding that he didn’t really have a choice in the matter.
The Russian government is believed to be behind the assassination attempt, according to Babchenko, who saw that his sensitive private information and documents including his passport photo were among some key evidence recovered by SBU – documents that would be hard to obtain if you weren’t the Russian government.
According to SBU, Russian special forces recruited a Ukrainian citizen (Codename “G”) to assemble a crack team of assassins and terrorists in Ukraine to do the Kremlin’s dirty work. Babchenko’s assassination was one of the missions assigned to this terrorist group.
Through SBU’s own espionage tactics, they learned that “G” recruited a former member of the ATO in eastern Ukraine and instructed the hitman to kill Babchenko for $30,000, half of which had already been paid. SBU also intercepted a dossier that contained data on Babchenko, his wife and kids, his work and private life, and even phone numbers, bank account information and passport pictures.
“G” and one other individual who is believed to have carried out the attempted assassination have since been captured by Ukrainian forces and a pretrial investigation is underway.
Babchenko took the time at the press conference to apologize to his wife, “for the hell she went through these past two days,” he said. Babchenko’s wife was the one who found his body and called for help, believing that her husband had just been murdered in his own home. “Olechka, I’m sorry, but there were no other options here,” said Babchenko.
“I apologize for what you had to go through,” he went on, asking for forgiveness from his friends and colleagues as well. “I’ve buried friends and colleagues many times, and I know it’s a sickening-vomiting feeling when you have to bury your colleagues.” Journalist assassinations are all too common among critics of Russia.
Babchenko left Russia in 2017, saying that he “no longer felt safe” there. And it’s easy to understand why. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Glasnost Defense Foundation, since 1992, 58 journalists have met an untimely end in Russia for voicing differing opinions than the state-sponsored stories that come from the Kremlin. And while many of these deaths were ruled as suicides or accidents by way of falling from tall balconies or “slipping” in their homes, Babchenko avoided being number 59.
We now look forward to what happens in this case, what evidence links “G” to Russia, and what the world will say in response.