Arkady Babchenko, the dissident Russian journalist who faked his own death in Ukraine’s capital, said on Thursday he had to undertake the ruse because he feared he would share the fate of poisoned former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
Ukrainian officials reported on Tuesday night that Babchenko, a critic of the Kremlin, had been gunned down in his apartment building in Kiev. Lurid pictures of him lying in a pool of blood were published, and officials suggested Russia was behind the assassination.
A day later, Babchenko appeared in public alive, and Ukrainian security officials said they had faked his death to thwart and expose what they said was a plot to assassinate him.
Babchenko, under fire from some quarters over the deception, hit back in a news conference in Kiev on Thursday, saying that he went along with the ruse organized by Ukrainian security officials because he feared for his life.
“Everyone who says this undermines trusts in journalists: what would you do in my place, if they came to you and said there is a hit out on you?” Babchenko said.
He said that when Ukrainian law enforcement approached him with information about a plot to kill him, “my first reaction was: ‘To hell with you, I want to pack a bag and disappear to the North Pole.’”
“But then I realized, where do you hide? Skripal also tried to hide.”
British authorities say that Skripal, a former Russian double agent, was poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent in the British provincial city where he lived after leaving Russia in a spy swap.
Britain says Russia is culpable for the poisoning, an allegation Moscow denies.
RESURRECTED IN MORGUE
Babchenko disclosed for the first time details of how the deception involving his fake death had been carried out.
On the night selected for the event, he said a make-up artist had come to his apartment to give him the appearance of a shooting victim, that he was given a T-shirt with bullet holes in it to wear, and that pig’s blood was poured over him.
He said he played dead while medical teams — who were in on the ruse — transported him to hospital in an ambulance and then certified him as dead and sent him to a morgue.
“Once the gates of the morgue closed behind me, I was resurrected,” Babchenko said. He said he then washed off the fake blood and dressed himself in a sheet.
“Then I watched the news and saw what a great guy I had been,” he said, referring to tributes that were paid to him in the media after his death was widely reported.
Asked about his next steps now, he said: “I plan to get some decent sleep, maybe get drunk, and then wake up in two or three days.”
Some diplomats and commentators said the operation to fake Babchenko’s death had hurt Kiev’s credibility and handed the Kremlin a propaganda gift.
“Relieved that Arkadiy #Babchenko is alive!” the office of the OSCE’s media representative Harlem Desir tweeted. “(But) I deplore the decision to spread false information on the life of a journalist. It is the duty of the state to provide correct information to the public.”
A senior EU diplomat in Kiev said Ukraine’s actions were understandable, but hoped the authorities would provide more information about what had happened.
“No one is angry, unlike some in other places, but we hope UA (Ukraine) understands that international good will is a finite resource – even if they are right and it’s a war against a superior enemy,” the diplomat wrote to Reuters in a message.
Additional reporting by Matthias Williams; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Osborn
Don’t be too sure that impeachment won’t move public opinion
Last week, I lamented about how the political press is incapable of conveying the gravity of a historic clash between two co-equal branches of government–one that has the potential to redefine a president’s powers and immunities going forward–in large part because most reporters are trained to cover political conflicts on the eve of an election first and foremost in the context of the horse race. So yesterday’s big impeachment news was that 70 percent of Americans believed Trump’s “actions tied to Ukraine were wrong” and a slim majority favored removing him from office, according to an ABC News/ Ipsos poll, and today we learn that “the first week of the House’s public impeachment hearings into President Donald Trump did not move public support for the inquiry in Democrats’ favor, according to a new Morning Consult/Politico poll.”
Jake Tapper catches Trump lying about his ‘highest ever’ poll numbers: ‘That’s not remotely true at all’
CNN's Jake Tapper on Tuesday called out President Donald Trump and the White House for spreading misinformation about the impeachment inquiry.
Following a morning of testimony from Jennifer Williams and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Trump claimed that "Republicans are killing it" in the impeachment hearings. And he said that his approval polls were at record highs.
"That's not remotely true at all," Tapper explained before checking in with correspondent Kaitlan Collins, who reported on reaction from the White House.
"Kaitlan, bottom half of the quote from the White House press secretary, she said Vindman and Williams testified that the president didn't commit any crime?" Tapper asked after Collins read the statement.
CNN fact checker busts Trump for sharing out-of-context video intended to smear Vindman
CNN fact checker Daniel Dale on Tuesday caught President Donald Trump sharing an out-of-context video that was intended to smear Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified earlier in the day about his concerns regarding the president's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
A tweet sent out by Trump social media director Dan Scavino showed a video of Vindman's testimony in which he acknowledged being approached by Ukrainian government officials multiple times and being offered a job as the country's defense minister.