The Irish Times view on Arkady Babchenko: faking a death in Kiev
Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, who was reported murdered in Kiev on Tuesday, attends a news briefing by the Ukrainian state security service on Wednesday. Photograph: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
When dissident Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko walked into a press conference on his own murder in Kiev this week, it took only minutes for some people’s shock and relief to turn to indignation. Even as Babchenko and Ukraine’s SBU security service described staging his death to thwart an alleged Russian multiple-murder plot, a chorus of complaint was building.
Journalists, and then press freedom watchdogs, said Ukraine’s ruse further damaged brittle faith in Kiev’s authorities and the media, and handed a victory to those from the Kremlin to the White House who insist that facts are relative and inconvenient stories are fake news.
How, critics asked, will people know whether to believe future announcements from Ukraine’s political and security chiefs, who are already widely seen as untrustworthy and corrupt? Russia, having denied involvement in the apparent murder, now condemned Ukraine’s use of “propaganda” and compared the Babchenko affair to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, which Moscow claims was staged to further sully its reputation. It is striking, however, that foreign journalists and commentators were far more scathing of the operation than their counterparts in Ukraine.
Maybe that is partly because Ukrainians sadly do not expect officials to always tell the truth, and they know this case will be used for PR purposes by the beleaguered SBU and political leaders eyeing next year’s national elections. Yet perhaps it is also because Ukrainians live in a country that is defending itself every day against a powerful and aggressive neighbour that uses an array of open and covert means to undermine it. If the SBU proves that it did indeed foil Moscow’s plot to kill Babchenko and some 30 other Russian exiles, then few Ukrainians are likely to lament that journalists and their readers were misled for a day.
And they will also reject comparisons with Russia, and the lies it has told for four years about its occupation of Crimea, the downing of the MH17 airliner, and its leading role in a war in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 10,300 people.