It didn’t take long for the story of a brave operation to prevent a Russian assassination in Kiev by faking a journalist’s death to start unravelling and revealing a crude publicity stunt.
On Wednesday, Ukraine’s national security service SBU shocked the world by revealing that it had staged the murder of Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko. The service claimed it was necessary to foil a real large-scale plot targeting Ukraine and masterminded by the Kremlin. By Thursday the shock effect wore off, and commenters started to tear apart the story they were fed.
According to the Ukrainian law enforcement, the biggest immediate win for the SBU in the case was the arrest of a Ukrainian businessman identified as “G”. He is accused of serving as an organizer of the hit on Babchenko on behalf of the Russian intelligence. He did hire a man, who was actually an SBU informant, and paid him $ 30,000 to kill Babchenko, the story goes. The SBU published footage of the arrest as well as a video taken by a hidden camera, which showed the money changing hands.
The official narrative claims that the assassination was meant as a dry run for a larger plot, which would target some 30 prominent public figures in Ukraine. “G” was supposed to purchase 300 Kalashnikov assault rifles and ammunition and organize several weapon caches in central Ukraine, the SBU claimed.
The suspect was later identified by a Ukrainian court as Boris German. According to his public profile, he is 50, has some military background and is interested in firearms. He is also the son of a prominent Ukrainian businessman Lev German and owns several companies in the country.
There is little official information about the case. But some Ukrainian media turned to their sources and dug up some interesting, if yet unconfirmed, details.
According to ukranews.com, German was offered a deal by the investigators, who offered him leniency in exchange of testifying against a person who was not named by the officials. The source said he rejected the offer and also said the businessman works with arms procurement for the Ukrainian army.
Strana.ua said its source confirmed that German had connections in the arms business. It also added that he was apparently framed by the Ukrainian law enforcement, which offered him to take part in a sting operation.
“It was a clear set up, a provocation. Now the man, who came to him with the suggestion, has disappeared and the SBU claims he was working for the Russian intelligence, but they don’t have any clear evidence to prove it,” the source is cited as saying.
Kiev-based lawyer Andrey Smirnov said the apparent agent provocateur was working for SBU’s counterintelligence department.
All these reports are far from disproving the story, of course, but they are quite telling. Especially considering that the story itself is full of inconsistencies and outright sloppiness from the start. Babchenko’s body soaked in pig blood on the photo released after his ‘assassination’ contradicted reports that he died in ambulance on the way to the hospital.
The “special operation” to stage the death was touted as highly secretive. The journalist even publicly apologized to his family for the grief he had caused by agreeing to take part in it. But Vasil Gritsak, the head of the SBU, said the family was warned beforehand. And Anton Gerashchenko confirmed in an interview he knew Babchenko was alive and well when he posted his self-righteous accusations of Russia for killing the man.
Another small detail. The footage released by the SBU makes it clear that G paid all the entire sum of $ 30,000 to the fake killer before he made his “attempt” to kill Babchenko. What was the purpose of the highly-public spectacle about his presumed murder then if not to get a record of the “killer” reporting his success to G and getting the final settlement for the hit?
The answer may be quite simple: the entire operation was conducted for the sake of bad publicity for Russia and good publicity for the SBU. Babchenko said his staged death was supposed to be timed with the final game of UEFA Champions League, which was held in Kiev last Saturday.
“In fact there were other, probably more large-scale and serious terrorist attacks, which were being arrange in earnest,” he explained. “This is why a week ago they said in Russia that some ISIS terrorists in Kiev were planning attacks before the Champions League. I suppose that was supposed to be me.”
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