News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ukraine Intelligence Agents: We Staged Killing Of Russian Journalist, Who Is Alive


The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. The popular misquote of Mark Twain seems appropriate for our next story. Those are words Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko could have used today. NPR's Lucian Kim reports on how the journalist's supposed murder has once again pitted Ukraine against its Russian neighbor.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: The news broke late Tuesday evening in Kiev. Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist and vocal critic of the Kremlin, had been shot dead at his apartment in the Ukrainian capital.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

KIM: The TV news report sounded horrible. Babchenko, who had fled Russia after being threatened by Russian lawmakers, had been murdered in cold blood after returning home after buying a loaf of bread. Ukraine Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman pinned responsibility for the murder on what he called the Russian totalitarian machine, and colleagues poured out their emotions at interviews and on social media.


YEVGENIA ALBATS: (Foreign language spoken).

KIM: Yevgenia Albats, one of Babchenko's former editors, told a Moscow radio station that now every Russian journalist was in mortal danger. A familiar blame game began, with the Kremlin saying the Ukrainians had barely begun their investigation but were already pointing the finger at Moscow.


SERGEY LAVROV: (Foreign language spoken).

KIM: Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called Babchenko's death a tragedy. He said accusations against Russia were groundless, just like the claims that Russia had poisoned a former Russian double agent in England or had been involved in the downing of a Malaysian passenger plane over eastern Ukraine. Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, accused the Ukrainians of the height of cynicism. And Russian investigators even offered their services to their Ukrainian colleagues, since Babchenko was a Russian citizen.

In fact, the Ukrainian authorities don't exactly have a great record in clearing up contract killings. Two years ago, Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet died in a car bombing on a Kiev street, and the case still hasn't been solved. This time, however, the Ukraine police produced a sketch of Babchenko's killer in no time. And the SBU, Ukraine's security agency, scheduled a press conference on the murder for Wednesday. Journalists who showed up were stunned when SBU Chief Vasyl Hrytsak suddenly introduced a supposed victim, Arkady Babchenko, alive and unhurt.

Babchenko's murder had been faked, Hrytsak said, to uncover an actual plot against him by Russian intelligence. Babchenko said the sting operation was so secret that not even his own wife knew about it.


ARKADY BABCHENKO: (Foreign language spoken).

KIM: Babchenko apologized to his wife, Olga, for the hell he had put her through but said he didn't have an option. Reaction to the news has been mixed. Some of Babchenko's colleagues said they were relieved he was alive but concerned that he had damaged the credibility of their profession. Reporters Without Borders expressed its deepest indignation with the Ukrainian Security Service for using a journalist to play with the facts. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.