Some of the most prominent newspapers across the Western World spent much of the end of May editing or deleting humiliating headlines and articles falsely announcing the supposed death of Russian media figure Arkady Babchenko – who turned up very much alive and well shortly after the Ukrainian government claimed he was murdered by assassins.
The humiliation suffered across the Western media also stems from the fact that most articles also included preliminary accusations against Russia for the “murder” – a now familiar pattern of assigning immediate and baseless blame, evident after the 2014 downing of Malaysian airliner MH17 and the more recent Skripal affair.
Blame was not limited to the unprofessional and increasingly exposed Western media. The Ukrainian government itself would go as far as directly accusing Russia from the highest levels of political power in Kiev.
The BBC in its article, “Ukraine blames Russia for journalist murder,” would note that even Ukraine’s prime minster accused Russia of the supposed “murder,” stating (emphasis added):
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman has accused Russia of being behind the killing in Kiev of the Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko.
“I am confident that the Russian totalitarian machine did not forgive him his honesty and principled stance,” the prime minister posted on Facebook.
Yet shortly after the announcement of Babchenko’s death and as accusations began to mount against Russia – the Ukrainian government announced that his death was staged by Ukrainian security services.
Ukraine’s government now claims that the staged murder was in response to an allegedly “genuine” threat to Babchenko’s life.
The Guardian would elaborate in their article, “Arkady Babchenko reveals he faked his death to thwart Moscow plot,” claiming:
Details of the precise threat to Babchenko’s life were murky. Vasyl Hrytsak, the head of the SBU, said Russia’s spy agencies had contacted a middleman, identified only as G, and paid him $40,000 to arrange the murder. The middleman in turn approached a former Ukrainian volunteer soldier to carry out the hit, together with additional “terrorist acts”, he said.
The middleman was now in custody, Hrytsak said, showing video of a middle-aged, white-haired man being bundled by officers into a van. Hrytsak added that phone intercepts had revealed his contacts in Moscow. Dozens of contract killings had been averted, he suggested, claiming that the list of potential victims in Ukraine stretched to 30 names.
Some Come Up for Air, Others Dive Deeper
Despite Kiev’s current crisis of credibility – many members of the Western media still busy editing and deleting humiliating jumps to conclusions – find themselves immediately and unquestioningly accepting the Ukrainian government’s explanation – a government who just lied to them about Babchenko’s murder in the first place.
Babchenko was not dead. His murder had been staged in order to catch a contract killer who had been paid $40,000 to assassinate him and who was planning to kill others. Babchenko walked into the room. People cheered. The security services gloated: They had, they said, used the fake murder to catch the middleman who paid the would-be assassin.
Plus, of course, they had finally made the Russians look stupid and themselves look smart. What “chaos”? Who’s a “failure” now? They had convinced the world that Babchenko was dead, pulled off a surprise, caught a criminal. Because the security services are under direct control of the Ukrainian president, they may well have helped him in his coming election campaign, and that may well have been part of the point.
Until now, most Western governments have officially avoided the public trolling and open trickery that the Russians use on a regular basis. Instead of producing disinformation to counter disinformation, most mainstream Western journalists have doubled down on facts, believing that in an increasingly unstable world, they should stick as far as possible to the truth.
And as members of the Western media like Applebaum dive deeper in into the abyss of lies and the same pattern of unprofessional conduct that teed most of the Western media up for this unprecedented humiliation in the first place – this final point regarding the Western media’s lack of credibility is driven home even further.
What Was Kiev Thinking?
The full story regarding the Babchenko hoax is still unfolding. Had the hoax not been revealed, and Babchenko hidden away – it is likely the same scenarios that unfolded after the downing of MH17 and following the more recent Skripal affair would have been repeated once again.There would have been sustained accusations and condemnation of Russia – the implementation of further sanctions, the further justification of NATO expansion along Russia’s borders, and further pressure placed upon Russian positions in Syria.
The unraveling of the Babchenko hoax so far remains unexplained. Kiev’s explanation is both implausible and lacks any credibility considering Kiev just intentionally lied to the international community. Was it a botched, staged provocation? Or something else?
But the means — the fictitious death, the staged public reports — will reduce even further the already microscopically low levels of trust that Ukrainians have in their government and their media.
Time will answer these questions in full.