Russian Journalist Thought Killed Is Alive

May 30, 2018
Originally published on May 30, 2018 12:04 pm
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We have an odd update now to a story we have been reporting on all morning. The Russian journalist that Ukrainian authorities said was shot and killed at his Kiev apartment on Tuesday night is in fact alive and well. Arkady Babchenko appeared in person and was apparently unharmed. He was at a press conference this morning called by Ukraine's security service, the SBU. They say the murder was staged in order to catch a man they claim was hired by Russian intelligence services to kill the journalist. NPR's Lucian Kim joins us from Moscow. Hi, Lucian.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Can't remember a story this bizarre that we have covered.

KIM: (Laughter) It's crazy.

GREENE: What exactly are Ukrainian authorities saying here?

KIM: Well, you know, everybody went to this press conference expecting to get some new information about the investigation of the murder, and then the authorities say, well, actually here's Arkady Babchenko himself. And he showed up wearing a sweatshirt. Authorities are calling this a special operation, basically a sting to catch the real organizers of a plot red-handed. The Ukrainian authorities are saying that in fact Russian intelligence services were behind a real plot. Of course, it will be interesting to see what kind of hard evidence the Ukrainians produce, you know, if there's really a smoking gun because if they don't, it will certainly reduce their credibility in the future.

GREENE: And a lot of suspicions might then be there about what they were trying to do and whether they were trying to make Russia look bad in some way, I suppose. Well, let me ask you this. Was the alleged would-be assassin actually captured, do we know?

KIM: Well, they're saying the organizer of this plot was detained and that the actual would-be assassin actually cooperated with the SBU with this Ukrainian security service. From what we're hearing, something like $30,000 were offered in exchange for this contract killing, and there were supposed to be other killings in Ukraine, as well. And, of course, Babchenko wouldn't have been the first Russian critic of the Kremlin to be killed in Ukraine.

GREENE: So he's a Russian critic, a journalist. Tell us anything you can more about him and why he might have been a target here.

KIM: Well, he became quite well-known as a journalist in Russia reporting on conflicts in Georgia and Ukraine, and he also became quite a vocal critic of the Kremlin, saying that President Putin was sort of using hatred as a way of consolidating the nation and starting new conflicts with Russia's neighbors.

GREENE: So, Lucian, do I have this right? This journalist was part of the staging of this event. I mean, not only fooling the world's media, including us at NPR, but even his friends and family thought he was killed, right?

KIM: Yeah. It's really completely crazy. I mean, Babchenko appeared at this press conference, and he even apologized to his wife, who wasn't aware that this was all staged. He really caught many people off guard. I mean, I've been speaking to colleagues here in Moscow. There's been a real outpouring of emotion. On one hand, it was sort of disbelief that this was happening, but also, I have to say, sort of a feeling of familiarity.

GREENE: Familiarity. Why do you say that?

KIM: A familiarity with critics of the Kremlin being killed.

GREENE: All right. Let's just restate the news now. We have been reporting all morning that a Russian journalist had been killed in Ukraine. It turns out that he is alive and well and, we are told, was part of a staged event in order to try and catch a man who Ukrainian authorities say was hired by Russian intelligence to kill this journalist. Just a bizarre story. NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow. Lucian, thanks a lot.

KIM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.