Arkady Babchenko, the Russian journalist and Kremlin critic reported to have been shot dead in Kiev on Tuesday, has turned up alive in Ukraine.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Vasily Gritsak, head of the Ukrainian Security Service, said the death had been staged in order to catch those who were trying to kill him.
Gritsak said the authorities had received information about a Russian plot to kill Babchenko and had managed to prevent it by faking the journalist’s death.
“I’m still alive,” Babchenko declared at the press conference after her took to the floor to applause and gasps.
“I know that sickening feeling when you bury a colleague. I’m sorry you had to go through this, but there was no other way.”
His wife, who reportedly found his body in a pool of blood in their flat, was unaware of the operation and thought he had been killed.
“Olechka, I am sorry, but there were no options here. I would like to apologise for what you have all had to go through,” Babchenko, who looked on the verge of tears, told reporters.
Babchenko thanked the Ukrainian security service for saving his life. The Ukrainian Security Services said the plan to thwart the attack was “normal” because “Sherlock Holmes did it”.
This appears to be a reference to the short story “The Final Problem”.
It’s not yet clear, however, how staging his death allowed the Ukraine authorities to avoid his murder or catch his would-be assassins.
Before ushering Babchenko into the room, Gritsak said investigators had identified a Ukrainian citizen who was allegedly paid 40,000 dollars (£30,000) by Russian security services to organise and carry out the hit.
The unidentified Ukrainian man in turn allegedly hired an acquaintance to be the gunman, Gritsak said.
The man allegedly paid to organise Babchenko’s killing was detained on Wednesday, he said, showing a video of the arrest.
Gritsak said killing Babchenko was part of a larger alleged plot by Russian security services.
The Ukrainian man was also supposed to procure large quantities of weapons and explosives, including 300 AK-47 rifles and “hundreds of kilos of explosives”, to perpetrate acts of terror in Ukraine, he said.
Russian journalists speaking to HuffPost UK have strongly criticised the operation. Andrei Soldatov, editor of the Agentura.Ru web site and author of the Red Web, said: “To me, it’s crossing a line big time.
“Babchenko is a journalist not a policeman ... I’m glad he is alive, but he undermined even further the credibility of journalists and the media.”
Oleg Kashin, a Russian journalist who was brutally attacked in 2010, said that while the development was undoubtedly good news, those close to Babchenko might not be so pleased: “What is better - to be killed or to be part of this macabre show?
“I think to be alive is good but I’m not sure that Arkady’s friends tomorrow will be happy to talk with him or smile at him tomorrow.”
Anton Gerashchenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker who serves as an adviser to the interior minister, described the operation in a Facebook post, detailing how a “very limited circle of people” knew the truth.
His reported murder had triggered a war of words between Ukraine and Russia and sent shivers through the journalistic communities in both countries.
Babchenko sparked a backlash in Russia for his comments in a 2016 Facebook post on a Russian military plane crash. He said his comments had resulted in thousands of threats, his home address being published online and calls for him to be deported.
The plane, carrying 92 people, including dozens of Red Army Choir singers, dancers and orchestra members, crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria in December 2016, killing everyone on board.