Arkady Babchenko had become an enemy of the state after upsetting some of the Kremlin's most powerful figures. Now, after more than a year of living in exile in Ukraine, he's been murdered outside his apartment complex.
Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko has been fatally gunned down at his home in Ukraine on Tuesday.
Living in exile in Kiev after a sustained attack on Kremlin policy saw him become an enemy of the state, Babchenko is understood to have been shot in the back three times by an unknown assailant as he was entering his apartment, and died on his way to hospital.
The 41-year-old former soldier turned author and war correspondent was highly critical of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and his government’s support of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
The Kremlin was particularly incensed when Babchenko said he could not feel sorry for the journalists he considered to be “representatives of leading propaganda agencies”, and the soldiers, that were killed when a plane bound for Syria crashed shortly after take-off.
On his Facebook page — which had amassed 200,000-odd followers — he instead drew his readers’ attention to the thousands of Ukrainians killed by the Russian military, and the civilians losing their lives at the hands of Syria’s Russia-backed government forces.
Dozens of Red Army Choir singers and dancers on their way to entertain the troops were also among the 92 killed.
Babchenko told The Guardian last year he didn’t feel safe in Russia
He defended his post in a column for The Guardian at the time he left Russia.
It revealed the abuse he and fellow journalist Bozhena Rynska received from figures of authority, state-run media and fellow citizens. It detailed deportation and asset confiscation attempts, thugs trying to break into Rynska’s home, and his own home address being published online suggesting it was worth a visit.
“I wrote a post about this on Facebook. I didn’t call for anything or insult anyone. I just reminded my readers that Russia was indiscriminately bombing Aleppo, without recognising that dozens of children were dying in those bombs, their photographs making their way around the world. I also called Russia an aggressor,” he wrote in February, 2017.
“All the elements of the propaganda machine were engaged. Channel One, Russia’s most powerful state channel, called on its viewers to create a petition supporting the removal of our citizenship and deportation. In 24 hours it was signed by 130,000 people,” he continued.
“Then, the tabloid channel LifeNews collaborated with the courts to serve me with a fine for not buying a bus ticket – I am a war veteran, and enjoy free public transport as a result. Fines are a familiar tactic in Russia, often issued to stop someone from leaving the country because of their debts.
“Then a ‘beat em up game’ emerged online where players are asked to ‘deal with the enemies of the homeland using your own fists and boots’. These enemies have to be ‘beaten until they fall’. I’m one of them.”
“To cap things off, a pro-government ultranationalist TV channel, Tsargrad, recently released a list of the ‘Top 100 Russophobes’ – I’m number 10, and I fought twice for this country. A country I no longer feel safe in.”
Arkady Babchenko, who was killed today in Kiev, wrote this for us last year on why he fled Russia. No words. https://t.co/OtdvXb4zSx
— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) May 29, 2018
Babchenko received death threats
The backlash over his stance led to thousands of death threats “in my email inbox, on Facebook and by phone”, and he fled Russia in February 2017, saying at the time: “There is an informed opinion that it would be a good idea for me to live outside our God-protected Motherland for a while.”
In the summer of 2017, he gave a specific example to Israeli magazine Haaretz.
“The first time, they warned me that there would be persecution in the wake of my post – and everything went as scheduled: Over the weekend, a campaign was launched against me and against Bozhena Rynska, with suggestions ‘to shoot us like mad dogs’,” he said.
“The second time, I was warned that provocations were liable to occur on February 7, and that this time the use of force was also a possibility. Again everything played out on schedule.
“That day, searches were conducted at five places. They broke into the apartment of [activist] Mark Gelperin; he jumped out the window, but they caught him and took him to Lubyanka [prison], just as one would have expected. They didn’t come to me that day.”
There is no doubt in the mind of Ukrainian politician Anton Geraschenko that the murder of Babchenko was Kremlin ordered.
“Putin’s regime is aimed at those who cannot be broken or intimidated,” he wrote on Facebook.
“Today in Kiev on the threshold of the apartment where he lived, a famous Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko was shot and killed, a consistent opponent of the Putin regime and a friend of Ukraine.”
A famous Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko was shot and killed, a consistent opponent of the Putin regime and a friend of Ukraine.
Indeed, Kiev police chief Andriy Kryshchenko told TV news channel 112 that Babchenko’s “professional activity” was one of two main channels of investigation. The other is his “civil position”.
Russian reporter falls from balcony last month
It follows Russian investigative reporter Maxim Borodin’s mysterious death last month, in which he fell from his fifth story apartment balcony in Yekaterinburg.
Close friend Vyacheslav Bashkov, told BBC that Borodin had contacted him at 5am on 11 April saying there was “someone with a weapon on his balcony and people in camouflage and masks on the staircase landing”.
Borodin then later called Bashkov back saying he had made a mistake and that the security men had been taking part in some sort of exercise.
Prior to this encounter, he had been reporting on Russian mercenaries in Syria, and St Petersburg entrepreneur Yevgeny Prigozhin’s involvement in the Wagner contracting company.
Prigozhin is known in the media as “Putin’s chef” because the President often hosted dinners with foreign dignitaries at his venues.
Moscow has also been accused of being behind the assassination attempt of former Moscow spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in England in March.
“Based on Russia’s record of doing state-sponsored assassinations and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations, the government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said.
“Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”
Russia denies any involvement.