The Ukrainian authorities say they had to stage the killing of an exiled Russian reporter to protect him. But their decision has serious repercussions
Arkady Babchenko rose from the dead on Wednesday, to the joy of those who know and love him. The truth, long a casualty of the war that began in Ukraine four years ago, will not recover so easily. The announcement that the “murder” of the exiled Russian journalist had been staged provoked shock and anger as well as relief. The emotion of his sympathisers was mirrored by evident glee on the part of pro-Russian social media users, quick to exploit its wider potential by renewing attacks on the “Skripal fairytale” and warning: “Next time you show me photos from Syria by ‘White Helmets’ I will show photo of ‘dead Arkady Babchenko killed by Putin’.”
The “death” was concocted by the SBU, Ukraine’s security service. The fear Mr Babchenko has lived with, as an outspoken critic of the Kremlin, was not. He fled Russia in February 2017, writing that it was “a country I no longer feel safe in”. Many other journalists from his newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaya, gunned down in the stairwell of her apartment block. Critics and opponents of the Russian government have died well beyond its borders: a British public inquiry into Alexander Litvinenko’s 2006 death in London concluded that he was probably murdered on the orders of Vladimir Putin. Ukraine never looked like the safest home; in 2016, the journalist Pavel Sheremet – a friend of the assassinated Russian politician Boris Nemtsov and a critic of the Russian and Ukrainian presidents as well as the leader of his own Belarus – died in a car blast in Kiev.