MOSCOW — Arkady Babchenko, a dissident Russian journalist reportedly assassinated in his apartment in the Ukrainian capital on Tuesday, emerged very much alive on Wednesday, his death apparently staged as part of an elaborate sting operation.
Mr. Babchenko created a sensation in Kiev on Wednesday by appearing at a news conference, billed as a police briefing about his assassination, at which he was greeted by whoops of surprise and scattered applause. It came less than 24 hours after his wife said she had found him bleeding to death on the floor of their apartment, shot in the back.
“First of all, I would like to apologize that all of you had to live through this, because I know the horrible feeling when you have to bury your colleagues,” Mr. Babchenko, 41, told the stunned room. “Separately, I want to apologize to my wife for all the hell she had to go through.”
Weirdest press conference of my life. Babchenko is alive. It was part of a sting to uncover an attempt on his life SBU says organized by Ukrainian citizen funded with $40k from Russia pic.twitter.com/Jk5j8MnQSr
— Ian Bateson (@ianbateson) May 30, 2018
Mr. Babchenko and the senior officials from the Ukrainian security services who appeared with him said that a contract for $40,000 had been put on his life, and that the only way to track down those responsible was to make it seem as if it had happened.
The operation took two months to plan, they said. Vasily S. Gritsak, the head of Ukraine’s Security Service, said there was one suspect in custody, a Ukrainian citizen.
The Ukrainian authorities accused the Russian security services of ordering the assassination of Mr. Babchenko, who fled Russia last year after he faced a harsh campaign of intimidation over his criticism of the Kremlin.
As part of the ruse, the police had said that Mr. Babchenko died while being taken to the hospital and staged pictures of his corpse.
The faked killing had immediately soured the already grim relations between Kiev and Moscow, with both sides accusing the other of carrying it out.
Moscow immediately cranked up its propaganda machine on Wednesday, with talk show guests on state-run television accusing Ukraine of carrying out the killing to make Russia look bad and spoil the World Cup soccer tournament, scheduled to start in Russia on June 14.