I still don’t get it. Arkady Babchenko, journalist and critic of Putin, is shot three times in the back in Kiev. There’s a photo of him in all the papers swimming in his own blood. Everyone in the West leaps in to blame Putin. The Kremlin denies responsibility.
Then, a day later, Babchenko turns up at a news conference in Kiev, fit and well. It turns out to have all been a plot. (Or a trick, for those who resile against ‘conspiracy theories’.) Obituaries have to be pulled from the next day’s papers. Boris Johnson in particular gets egg on his face, for being one of the first to be fooled. (This just a few days after he’s revealed to have been taken in on the phone by a trickster claiming to be the Armenian President. He claims he spotted the con immediately, but the phone call was logged at 18 minutes.) The Babchenko wheeze was apparently the idea of the Ukraine Secret Service, with the object of smoking a genuine Kremlin assassin out. There’s a drawing of the man they suspect in the papers. He looks a bit like Jeremy Corbyn. Has this story got any further to go?
So far it doesn’t seem to stack up. How can faking an assassination be used to reveal a genuine suspect, who obivously had nothing to do with it? Maybe we’ll be told. (I can’t believe that there’s no rational explanation. The Ukrainian Secret Service must be cleverer than that.)
The other problem with it, of course, is that it will throw doubt on all those other mysterious deaths of Russian dissidents, which are always blamed on the Russian state, but could – just could – have been similarly contrived in order to mislead. What about the Skripals, for example, who Boris was certain must have been the target of a cunning Russki assassination plot, but who then – a bit like Babchenko – turned up alive and well. Wasn’t Boris, at the very least, a bit hasty in rushing to judgment over that? This Babchenko episode must get us to think again about all these plots. (Only ‘think again’, mind; we can still believe, as I do, that the Kremlin or its agents were probably responsible.)
In any event, the affaire Babchenko isn’t exactly a propaganda coup for the West. Perhaps it was all set up by the Russians, as a kind of double bluff. They’re definitely clever enough. And Boris is definitely fool enough to help.