A well-known Russian journalist and writer, Arkady Babchenko, who was said to be killed in Kiev on Tuesday, is alive and his murder was staged by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), local media reported Wednesday.
According to Interfax-Ukraine news agency, Mr Babchenko appeared alive during the news conference of Vasyl Hrytsak, the head of the SBU.
Ukraine and Russia traded accusations after Babchenko was reported to have been shot dead in Kiev, in a killing that sent shivers through the journalistic communities in both countries.
It was reported that Babchenko, 41, died of his wounds in an ambulance on Tuesday after an unidentified gunman shot him in the back several times as he returned home after buying bread.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said in a social media posting late on Tuesday he was convinced that what he called “the Russian totalitarian machine” had not forgiven Babchenko for what Mr Groysman called his honesty.
The Ukrainian president’s office referred journalists on Wednesday to comments by Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who said it was too early to draw conclusions but that there was “an astounding similarity to the methods Russia uses to provoke political destabilisation”.
The Kremlin described such allegations as part of an anti-Russian smear campaign.
“This is the height of cynicism against the backdrop of such a brutal murder, it is anti-Russian bluster instead of talking about the need to conduct a thorough, objective investigation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
Mr Peskov said Ukraine had become a dangerous country for journalists and press freedom there was under severe pressure.
Mr Babchenko’s ‘killing’ was the fourth of a Kremlin critic in the Ukrainian capital in two years. None of the others, which Kiev has also blamed on Russia, have been solved.
“We think this should attract very tough international reaction which will move the Ukrainian authorities towards active measures to resolve the situation,” said Mr Peskov.
Russian investigators have opened their own investigation into the killing and said they are ready to cooperate with Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Alexander Bortnikov, head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, also flatly denied any Russian involvement in the killing.
Harlem Desir, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Representative on Freedom of the Media, said he was on his way to Kiev to meet the Babchenko’s colleagues on Wednesday as a slew of Western foreign ministers condemned the killing.
“I am outraged by this horrific act,” Mr Desir said in an earlier statement.
The European Union, Desir, and the Council of Europe all called on Ukraine to spare no effort in its investigation.
Police in Kiev were preparing to further investigate the scene of the crime on Wednesday by conducting ballistic and forensic examinations and looking at CCTV footage.
Mr Babchenko fought in the Russian army in Chechnya, and then became a war reporter for several Russian newspapers.
He reported on Russia sending private military contractors into Syria and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 in July 2014 over eastern Ukraine, for which investigators on Friday held the Russian state responsible, something it denies.
On February 27, 2017, he wrote on social media that he had left Russia.
One man stuck black and white photos of Babchenko on the fence of the Russian embassy in Kiev, and mourners were expected to gather in Kiev’s central Maidan square on Wednesday evening.