Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist who faked his own death in collaboration with Ukraine officials, has defended his actions, saying he feared for his life. He's faced criticism for undermining his credibility.
The Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko who faked his own death earlier this week told reporters in Kyiv on Thursday he had agreed to cooperate with Ukrainian authorities and could have refused to participate when the plot was hatched.
He said he had initial doubts about whether the threat against him was real, but went along with the fake death scheme because he feared for his life.
"What would you do in my place, if they came to you and said there is a hit out on you?" he said. "My goal was to stay alive and ensure the safety of my family. That is the first thing I am thinking about. Journalistic standards are the last thing I am thinking about now. Friends, I don't care whether you believe it next time [...] as when I'm dead it won't matter to me anymore."
Babchenko had faced criticism from several parties, notably journalistic organizations like Reporters Without Borders. Even German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, in Kyiv on Thursday for a scheduled visit, said Ukraine ought to shed light on what happened to "encourage trust."
"The circumstances are a little bizarre. I do not have sufficient information to evaluate them myself," Maas said.
When the Ukrainian secret services approached him in April with information about an alleged Moscow-ordered assassination plot, Babchenko said his reaction was: "To hell with you, I want to pack a bag and disappear to the North Pole. But then I realized, where do you hide? Skripal also tried to hide."
The former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was poisoned in the UK where he lived after leaving Russia in a spy swap. Britain asserts that Russia poisoned him, Russia rejects the allegation.
'I hate Putin'
Babchenko went on to say he "hated" Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"This person is responsible for several wars, this person is responsible for thousands of deaths. I have buried acquaintances, I have buried colleagues, I have buried friends, I am tired of burying them," he said, adding he wanted to create a new life for himself.
Babchenko said he had decided to accept an offer from Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko to become a Ukrainian citizen. "It would be impolite to refuse," Babchenko said. "This country has given me asylum. This country has conducted a special operation to save my life. I am thankful for this."
Babchenko has become a vocal critic of the Kremlin and in particular Russia's wars in Chechnya in the 1990s and 2000s. He volunteered to serve in the First Chechen War and later wrote a memoir of his experiences.
Babchenko left Russia last February after receiving threats, living in the Czech Republic and Israel, before moving to Kyiv.
Made up and killed off
The journalist, who is now staying in what he called a "guarded place," said Ukrainian officials had used pig's blood and a make-up artist to help stage his murder.
He said he had been taken away in an ambulance from the scene of the faked murder to a morgue, where he changed clothes and began watching the news.
He was found by his wife outside the couple's apartment, bleeding and appearing as if he had been shot multiple times.
A plot that thickens
Ukraine's security services said on Wednesday that Babchenko's death had been faked to foil an assassination plot by Moscow.
When asked on Thursday, Babchenko said he had no hard evidence to prove that the staging of his death was not a Ukrainian ruse designed to discredit Moscow.
President Petro Poroshenko hailed the news as a sign that Ukraine had "passed the sovereignty test." Russian officials have called the staging anti-Russian provocation.
jbh/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)