First, Ukraine announced the "murder" of prominent Russian journalist and Kremlin critic Arkady Babchenko late Tuesday, prompting an outpouring of grief and condemnation, and mutual accusations between Kiev and Moscow.
Then, in a stunning twist on Wednesday, the Ukraine security services revealed Babchenko was still alive, with his “killing” staged as a sting to catch the masterminds behind a real plot to assassinate him on orders of the Russian security services.
Here is an outline of how the top-secret operation panned out.
On Tuesday morning at 0856 GMT, Babchenko writes a post on Twitter and Facebook about narrowly avoiding death four years ago when he failed to board a helicopter that crashed, referring to it as his “second birthday”.
Hours later, at around 1800 GMT, Ukrainian police announce Babchenko has died after being hit by three bullets to the back in the stairwell of his apartment block in Kiev. Police say his wife called an ambulance after finding him bleeding but he died on route to hospital.
Later police early on Wednesday morning release a drawing of the suspected killer, describing him as a bearded man with a noticeable belly. Police say they are primarily looking into Babchenko’s “professional activities” as the motive.
Aide to the Ukraine interior minister Anton Gerashchenko posts a photograph of Babchenko lying facedown in a pool of blood.
Russia’s Investigative Committee says at 1930 GMT that it has launched its own probe, adding it will not ignore “cruel crimes” against Russians in Ukraine.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman writes on Twitter at 1936 GMT: “I am convinced that the Russian totalitarian machine did not forgive him his honesty and principled stance.
“A true friend of Ukraine who was telling the world the truth about Russian aggression. His murderers should be punished.”
He also reposts Babchenko’s final social media message about dodging death.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin later mentions the murder at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
The Russian Foreign Ministry in a statement at 1955 GMT condemns the murder, saying that “bloody crimes and total lawlessness have become routine for the Kiev regime” and that violent attacks and murders of journalists are “steadily rising” in Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov comments on Wednesday at 0700 GMT, calling the death a “tragedy” and predicting Kiev will blame Russian security services.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists at 1000 GMT that “We strongly condemn this killing” and said Ukraine had become a “very dangerous place” for journalists. He calls Kiev’s blaming Russia for the killing the “height of cynicism.”
A news conference called by Ukraine’s SBU security service starts at 1400 GMT in Kiev. Minutes later, head of the service Vasyl Grytsak ushers Babchenko into the room to gasps and applause from journalists and congratulates him on his “third birthday.”
Babchenko says he was told of the planned killing by Ukrainian security services a month ago. He apologises to his wife for putting her through “hell”.
Grytsak says that the organiser who tried to arrange the contract killing was detained in Kiev around three hours earlier.
Russia’s foreign ministry late Wednesday condemned what it called an “anti-Russian provocation,” criticising the statements by Ukrainian officials. It calls on Kiev to investigate “real murders”.
Babchenko on Twitter vows to “die at 96 after dancing on Putin’s grave”. DM
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