What will Babchenko's staged murder change?

In the aftermath of Arkady Babchenko's staged killing the Russian journalist and Ukraine's intelligence agencies and political leadership are still under fire. Kiev argues that the operation was necessary to prevent a real murder. Europe's journalists remain divided about the episode and recall a similar case in France in 1982.

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Lietuvos žinios (LT) /

France provided the blueprint

The wave of indignation the affair has triggered isn't really justified because this isn't the first time a murder has been staged, political scientist Viktor Denisenko points out in Lietuvos žinios:

“In 1982 the French counter-intelligence service staged the disappearance of the Romanian dissident Virgil Tănase in a similar operation because it had heard that the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu had given orders for his assassination. The French hid Tănase for three months, and the whole time everyone was convinced - even his closest contacts - that he was dead. Back then no one criticised France's decision. ... The most important thing about the current story is that Babchenko's life was saved. But critics of the special operation tend to forget that.”

Le Soir (BE) /

Truth is the biggest loser

Staging fake news like Babchenko's death is extremely risky, Le Soir warns:

“Why will this ridiculous story leave its mark? Because it plays into the hands of all types of conspiracy theorists, in particular Putin's propagandists. Already people are stressing that the Russian double agent who was poisoned in Britain has been discharged from hospital without any progress in the investigation. Or that the United Nations commission charged with investigating the chemical attacks in Syria still hasn't made its conclusions public. That's playing with fire. The risk is that people will no longer believe anything. Or worse still, that they'll start to believe anything.”

Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

Journalism being harmed

The Russian investigative journalist and intelligence expert Andrei Soldatov reflects in an interview with Eesti Päevaleht on the Babchenko case:

“Even the highest level of government was involved. Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman accused Russia of the murder, yet he too was involved. It was already clear to me that we can't simply trust news from the intelligence services. But before this latest crisis no one thought that we had to be equally careful with the statements of a prime minister. Since we live in a globalised world, the episode also has an impact on journalists far away from Ukraine. In the next crisis people will quite justifiably ask: how can you prove that you're not part of a special operation?”

Novoye Vremya (UA) /

Incident puts Ukraine in a bad light

Novoye Vremya lets several experts comment on the staged killing, among them Vladislav Davidson, editor-in-chief of The Odessa Review. Clearly shaken he writes:

“The day before yesterday I wrote about Babchenko's murder. Yesterday after the press conference I had to apologise to my readers. I am really disappointed and angry. The shocking news of the fraud committed by the SBU and the state in staging a murder has profoundly saddened me. ... One of the key advantages of Ukraine in this conflict has been its sincerity and fairness. But after these events people will certainly be asking themselves whether they can still trust the Ukrainian state.”

Delfi (LT) /

Flying in the face of journalism's true mission

Delfi heaps criticism on Babchenko:

“A journalist must not serve any government. His duty is to serve the people and the truth - but certainly not any kind of special operation. Even in the name of very honourable goals. An independent journalist, as Babchenko maintains he is, must not under any circumstances strike a deal with the state authorities. Even when these authorities come across as the holiest of orders. Because that destroys the mission of journalism according to which journalists are the watchdogs of society.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

Truth on very shaky ground

By staging the death of Arkady Babchenko Ukraine has hurt its own cause, the Wiener Zeitung writes:

“The country that was already viewed critically by its Western partners for its rampant corruption once again comes across as chaotic and unpredictable. The West's desire to strengthen cooperation with Kiev could cool if there is a lack of trust. That, however, would be fatal for Ukraine, which for obvious reasons has burned its bridges with Russia. For journalists the lessons from the Babchenko affair can only be: don't trust anyone. When even news of a person's death turns out to be 'fake', when it's no longer possible to trust official information on indisputed facts such as a shooting, the rug has been pulled out from under the feet of everyone with an interest in politics.”

Vedomosti (RU) /

A new chapter in the history of fake news

The Ukrainian secret service's operation has not only destroyed trust in the media, Wedomosti criticises:

“The SBU's special operation was a traditional method used by secret services. ... But its extensive media coverage by the state organs raises the practice of fake news (even if it's for a good cause) to a new level: apparently this was the first case in which highly placed state representatives were involved in such a staging. After Babchenko's 'murder', it will not only be far more difficult to believe the media, but also to believe official confirmations at the highest levels ('Perhaps this is just another special operation?'). In the long term, that will not only destroy trust in 'confirmed' information but also further blur the increasingly fuzzy distinction between reality and lies.”

Zeit Online (DE) /

Full transparency needed now

The SBU secret service must now quickly produce hard evidence corroborating its version of the events, Zeit Online comments:

“The Russian state has been accused again and again of being involved in crimes - be it the Skripal case, the murder of Russian dissidents or the shooting down of passenger plane MH17 over eastern Ukraine. Every time the Russian state is faced with such accusations Moscow claims the evidence is fake. For the Russian government, the spectacular staging of Babchenko's death will no doubt serve as a convenient excuse to shrug off all accusations as 'fake news'. For this reason alone it would be good if Babchenko and the Ukrainian secret service acted with as much transparency as possible from now on.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Babchenko is not to blame

Commenting in Lidové noviny Petra Pracházková, a journalist who worked in Russia for many years, refuses to condemn Babchenko for working together with the Ukrainian secret service:

“Babchenko himself is very trustworthy and he has proven with his articles and his lifestyle that he possesses great journalistic skill as well as courage. It's entirely possible that he didn't know what was happening to him or why in the last two months. To condemn him for working with secret services at a time when his life was at stake would be completely absurd. The only thing that is clear so far is that he was used as bait. And you live dangerously as bait.”