The murder of Arkady Babchenko produced thousands of angry articles, including my own, around the world.
That the murder was staged as part of a police sting operation has also produced thousands of angry responses, this time with both Babchenko and the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) on the receiving end.
The accusations are varied. Those by Reporters Without Borders represent almost the whole gamut, proving that this august organisation ought to be renamed Reporters Without Minds.
The first arrow was fired at the SBU: “it is pathetic and regrettable that the Ukrainian police have played with the truth, whatever their motive… for the stunt”.
This suggests that any police force running a sting operation somehow transgresses against morality – even if crimes are prevented and lives are saved as a result. This is simply nonsense.
Ever since the fictional Sherlock Holmes staged his own death to nail a sniper who had been stalking him, there have been thousands of real cases where a death was faked.
For example, in 1976, the Texan billionaire Cullen Davis was found not guilty of attempted murder.
Rather than heaving a sigh of relief, the vindictive billionaire compiled a list of everyone involved in the trial, starting with the judge, and hired a hitman to sort them out. He hadn’t done his due diligence properly, for the hitman was an FBI plant, part of an elaborate operation.
Pictures of the supposedly dead judge smeared with ketchup were taken. The ‘assassin’ showed them to Davis as proof of a job well-done (“I got the judge for you, okay?”) and collected his payment. As the envelope was changing hands, Davis was arrested.
Whatever next? Are we going to accuse the war allies of perfidy for landing in Normandy, having first deceived the Nazis into believing the landing would happen in Pas-de-Calais? You have to admit that the allies ‘played with the truth’ more deviously than even the SBU.
What else? Oh yes, Reporters Without Minds strongly hint that this operation somehow exonerates Putin of all his crimes, past and future. This sting, they explain, “would not help the cause of press freedom. All it takes is one case like this to cast doubt on all the other political assassinations.”
Presumably, the cause of press freedom would have been helped only by Babchenko’s real death. Rather than cooperating with the SBU, he should have painted a target on his back and gone to his death with the same heroic resignation as Reporters Without Minds doubtless would display under similar circumstances.
And how much doubt will be cast on other political assassinations? In the real world, as opposed to the virtual one inhabited by Putin’s revolting sycophants?
Must we now doubt that Anna Politkovskaya was killed for real? Boris Nemtsov? Natalia Estremirova? Sergei Magintsky? Alexander Litvinenko? Paul Khlebnikov? Atyom Borovik, Yuri Shchekochikhin? Anastasia Baburova? Pavel Sheremet, Babchenko’s friend and another journalist taking refuge in Kiev, murdered by a car bomb in 2016? Is Flight MH17 still doing its rounds?
Or do the Mindless Reporters deny that Putin’s regime is capable of murder, including political assassination, in or out of Russia? If so, this gives a whole new meaning to the word no-brainer.
Why do they and other critics full of moral indignation think Babchenko agreed to expose his wife, children, elderly mother and numerous friends to the shock of his death? Is he a callous, heartless cynic with no regard for the misery of others?
Hardly. This is a man who adopted five girls, saving them from the horror of Russian orphanages, where malnourished children are dying in droves. Rather than as a heartless cynic, he is known to his friends as a noble, kind, generous man.
So why did he do it? At his posthumous press conference, Babchenko said he had no other option, and I believe that’s what he thought.
Here are the facts, as we know them. Babchenko had been receiving death threats for years, some coming from Putin’s insiders, such as Marina Yudenich. In spite of that, he courageously continued to publish articles scathing of the criminal regime under which he had to live.
Babchenko only fled Russia when he found out that he was about to be arrested and tried, which in Putin’s Russia means imprisoned – political defendants are always convicted, with the verdicts predetermined in the Kremlin. Chances are, he wouldn’t have survived incarceration (remember Sergei Magnitsky?).
Then, about a month ago, the SBU told Babchenko that a $40,000 contract had been taken out for his assassination. And not only his: apparently, Babchenko headed a list of 30 Russian émigrés slated to be ‘whacked’ (several had already been killed). The SBU then devised the sting and asked Babchenko to play along.
He agreed, and as a result Putin’s hitman has been arrested. He is being interrogated even as we speak, and it’s conceivable that he’ll blow the whole conspiracy sky high.
But even if he doesn’t, saving Babchenko’s life is good enough by itself, especially if there was indeed no other option of protecting him.
Not being as familiar as Babchenko’s critics evidently are with the intricacies of police procedure, I can’t judge whether or not other options existed. In America and Britain, for example, people can get police protection involving a change of address, identity and sometimes even appearance.
But the Ukraine is neither America nor Britain. The country is crawling with Putin’s spies, and collaborators, always willing to lend a helping hand. They definitely number in hundreds of thousands, possibly millions. Given such demographics, going to ground is more difficult there than in America or Europe.
One way or another, the operation has shown that Putin can’t have his own way in the Ukraine. It has saved dozens of lives possibly and Babchenko’s definitely.
Rather than being criticised, the SBU and Babchenko ought to be congratulated on a brilliant operation, yet again exposing the enormity of Putin’s fascist regime to everyone – except those who won’t see.