Relief, anger over Russia journalist's staged death

Paris (AFP) –


News that the supposed murder of a prominent Russian journalist and Kremlin critic was actually staged by Ukraine to thwart a real attempt on his life provoked both relief and anger on Wednesday.

In a stunning development barely 24 hours after he had been reported killed, Arkady Babchenko appeared at a press conference where he admitted participating in a "special operation" to catch the alleged mastermind of a Russian plot to kill him.

Here is a summary of the main reactions:

- EU 'relieved' -

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said he was "relieved" that Babchenko had not been killed, after earlier denouncing the supposed murder as a "hideous crime".

"Relieved to learn that Russian journalist Arkadi Babchenko's murder was staged by Ukrainian police and that he is alive and taking part to a press conference to explain reasons that forced him to make this up," he tweeted.

A spokeswoman for EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini had a similar reaction.

"Relieved to hear that Mr Babchenko is alive. We are following the actions of the Ukrainian authorities and are looking forward to further details on this case," Maja Kocijancic tweeted.

- Russia slams 'provocation' -

In Moscow, the foreign ministry said it was "great news" that Babchenko was alive, but denounced the set up as propaganda aimed at discrediting the Russian authorities.

"Now the true motives are beginning to be revealed for this staging, which is totally obviously yet another anti-Russian provocation," it said.

Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, a former colleague of Babchenko, also questioned the value of the operation, describing it as "crossing a line, big time."

"Babchenko is a journalist, not a policeman... and part of our job is trust," he wrote on Twitter.

"I'm glad he is alive, but he undermined even further the credibility of journalists and the media."

- RSF fury at 'pathetic stunt' -

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounced it as a "pathetic stunt", warning of the dangers of playing with the truth.

Speaking to AFP, RSF head Christophe Deloire said that although he was relieved Babchenko was alive, it was "pathetic and regrettable that the Ukrainian police have played with the truth, whatever their motive... for the stunt".

The fake set-up, he warned, "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," he said in a nod to the recent murders of a number of Kremlin critics in Ukraine.

"It is the state lying, even if it was brief," he added.

"It is always deeply dangerous that states play with the facts -- moreover on the backs of journalists."