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Russia uses Arkady Babchenko case to cast doubt on Skripal poisonings

The journalist and Kremlin critic was widely reported to have been murdered before surprising virtually everyone by turning up alive at a news conference.
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MOSCOW — Moscow has branded the “resurrection” of Russian journalist and Kremlin critic Arkady Babchenko "propaganda" and claimed it casts doubt on other accusations made by the West.

Babchenko was widely reported to have been assassinated in Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday, before surprising virtually everyone by turning up alive at a news conference less than 24 hours later.

He revealed more details of the plot to fellow reporters at a news conference Thursday, saying pig's blood and a make-up artist were used to help stage the incident. Babchenko said he was then taken in an ambulance to a morgue, where he changed clothes and turned on the news.

Image: Arkady Babchenko
Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, center, at a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine, on Wednesday — a day after he was reported to have been killed.Valentyn Ogirenko / Reuters

The head of Ukraine’s security services told reporters that they had faked Babchenko's death to catch those who were trying to kill him. Even the reporter's wife and six children were kept out of the loop. Officials accused the Russian security services of ordering the attempted assassination of Babchenko.

In a statement Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow accused Ukraine of “fanning anti-Russian hysteria" and said the episode was “another anti-Russian provocation."

Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote a separate statement on her Facebook page stating that it was "obvious that a propaganda effect was part of the plan."

Russian state media used the Babchenko incident to raise questions about other allegations made against the Kremlin. RT drew a comparison between the Babchenko case and the recent poisonings and recoveries of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia — insinuating that both incidents had been faked.

Britain says the Skripals were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent called Novichok and has blamed the attack on Russia. Moscow has denied any involvement.

An article published in the business daily Vedomosti argued that the Babchenko incident meant it’ll be much harder for people to believe not just media reports, but also official confirmations by authorities. On Tuesday, Ukraine's national police announced that the Russian journalist had been shot in a targeted killing.

“In the long term, this not only kills the credibility of ‘confirmed,’ information, but it also erodes the already narrowing line between reality and fiction,” Vedomosti said.

Babchenko has been critical of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin’s support for separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine, and the Russian military campaign in Syria.

Reports of the 41-year-old's assassination were followed by journalists flooding social media with obituaries and tributes.

But some warned the Babchenko incident raised serious ethical questions and could end up hurting both the Ukrainian government and the media’s credibility.

“What really scares me is when [the] next journalist is murdered in Ukraine no one is going to believe it,” Myroslava Petsa, a journalist with the BBC’s Ukrainian service, wrote on Twitter.

However, while Putin critic and chess grandmaster Gary Kasaprov described the case as "a bizarre charade," he added, "I've had too many colleagues beaten [and] murdered to be anything but happy that Arkady Babchenko is alive and well."