Less than 24 hours later, the 41-year-old Babchenko was paraded at a press conference organized by Ukraine security services. The journalist, who was a prime target for his scathing criticism of the Kremlin, said the Ukrainian authorities approached him a month ago with evidence that his murder was planned for $30,000. "I understood it had to be an operation of Russian special services. I had no choice but to participate in the sting," he told a packed Kiev news conference today.
In a statement, the Russian foreign ministry said it was glad Babchenko is alive, but called the incident "another anti-Russian provocation" and said it was "obviously designed for a certain propaganda effect."
That Babchenko would allow himself to take part in a sting operation, even dupe his close friends and colleagues, to catch his alleged assailant compromises journalists at a time when they are under attack in Ukraine and in many other places around the world.
Do we need another excuse for the media to be branded as fake or manipulative? Kiev authorities said they were made aware of the plot four months ago and staged the elaborate ploy in order to capture suspects. Ukrainian television channel 112 is reporting that a suspect also planned to set up a "weapons base" in the Ukrainian capital in order to launch more terrorist attacks.
Wrote my friend, journalist Anna Nemtsova: "No fake news ever shocked reporters working in Russia and Ukraine more than this story."
While expressing relief that Babchenko is alive, many journalists and media watchdogs have come out slamming the operation.
, "it is always dangerous for States to play with the facts, and also on the back of journalists." And the Committee to Protect Journalists
RSF exprime sa plus vive indignation à la découverte de la manipulation des services secrets ukrainiens pour leur guerre de l'information. Il est toujours profondément dangereux que des États jouent avec les faits, et de surcroît sur le dos des journalistes. https://t.co/4Wnwh0Pj9F— Christophe Deloire (@cdeloire) May 30, 2018
what it calls "an unprecedented situation" -- adding that the Ukrainian authorities need to disclose what necessitated the extreme measure of staging news of the murder.
We are relieved that #ArkadyBabchenko is alive. Ukrainian authorities must disclose what necessitated the extreme measure of staging news of the Russian journalist's murder. CPJ is investigating this unprecedented situation and will have further comment once we have more details.— Committee to Protect Journalists (@pressfreedom) May 30, 2018
as "a mindless and tragic mistreatment of public empathy that discredits so many things at once -- Ukraine, Russian liberals, journalists. Only the Kremlin wins."
Babchenko's death turns out to be fake news of the century. A mindless and tragic mistreatment of public empathy that discredits so many things at once - Ukraine, Russian liberals, journalists. Only Kremlin wins.— Leonid Ragozin (@leonidragozin) May 30, 2018
Whatever the explanation, the operation could have been done in such a way as to not compromise the journalist -- or the news media as a whole.
Moreover, parading Babchenko at a press conference in Kiev plays into the hands of those who accuse the media of being fake or untrustworthy. As we traverse the shoals of a post-truth world it can only further undermine people's trust in journalism. Furthermore, the credibility of Ukrainian security officials will suffer in the long term. Anything the Ukrainian Government says henceforth will now have to be double and triple checked.
At a time when Ukraine is positioning itself as a responsible member of the European community and is begging international donors for assistance in countering "fake news," why would it contribute to its spread?
As for Babchenko? It could be that the price for his head has significantly increased, and he will likely require round-the-clock protection for the rest of his life. Then again, it is not often that one gets to read what has been written about you after your death.