Why did anti-Putin journalist Arkady Babchenko fake his own death and reappear at press conference?

Death had been reported in grisly and specific terms – even to Babchenko's own friends and family

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 30 May 2018 15:40 BST
Kremlin critic Arkady Babchenko revealed to still be alive

Last night, an anti-Putin journalist was reported to have been shot dead in his house, in the most grisly and horrific way. Today, he arrived at his own press conference.

The events are apparently part of a complex and detailed plot to capture those who meant to kill Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko.

The plan went into action two months ago when authorities received information that someone wanted to assassinate Mr Babchenko, according to Vasily Gritsak, head of the Ukrainian Security Service. To protect him authorities had a plan of their own to avoid his arrest and catch his would-be killers: kill him themselves, albeit fictitiously.

That plot to kill him would be described in the most horrifying terms. And it would lead to widespread mourning, and a hunt for his would-be killers.

The Guardian, for instance, had reported the incident in grisly detail. Those details appear to have been provided by authorities.

"Arkady 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 paper wrote.

"The killing appeared to be targeted. The gunman had apparently lain 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 Wednesday evening had not named a suspect, but did post a sketch of a bearded man in a baseball hat."

The world went onto mourn him, for more than 12 hours. Even close members of his family and friends wrote moving obituaries for a man they thought had been killed as a result of his journalism and activism.

Then Mr Babchenko arrived at the press conference, during which he revealed the grand plan that had involved his murder being faked.

Behind the scenes, authorities had been allowing events to play out so they could catch the people behind the killing, they said during the same news conference. Both the would-be assassin and organiser of the murder have now been detained, according to authorities.

The picture that had been distributed of the suspect was fake, but circulated as real. The reports that Mr Babchenko had been found in his own blood were faked, and police were instructed to report those to the public.

Only a limited circle of people are thought to have known about the plot. Even Mr Babchenko's own family and friends were not aware that the death was fake.

Ukrainian MP Anton Geraschenko, who had been quoted in reports about the killing, detailed the complicated plan in a Facebook post. He said that the people behind the killing had to be convinced that the murder had gone ahead, so that they could be caught.

He also said that they knew that the reports of the murder would cause pain for the many people who would mourn him. "But they had no other choice," he wrote.

"In order to trace and document the chain from the killer to the organizers and customers it was necessary to create in them full confidence that the order was executed and force them to take a number of actions that will be documented by the investigation," Mr Geraschenko wrote on Facebook.

"After all, even the hero of Arthur Conan Doyle - Sherlock Holmes successfully used the method of staging his own death for the effective investigation of complex and intricate crimes. No matter how painful it was for his family and Dr. Watson."

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