KRUK REPORT: The unbearable lightness of being alive

KRUK REPORT: The unbearable lightness of being alive
Russian journalist Arkadiy Babchenko faked his own murder to catch a would-be assassin
By Kateryna Kruk in Kyiv May 31, 2018

At this point, there is no need to repeat details of the staged murder of Arkadiy Babchenko by Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). The news of his death crossed the world in the speed of light causing very noble reactions of sympathy and mourning. People were very sincere in their grief. This is something no one should be ashamed of because it only shows how deeply is Babchenko cherished and respected by his friends and followers. And how tired journalists are of losing their fellow colleagues.

Yesterday, I was telling myself I wouldn’t write this blog, because I saw how tense and emotional were the comments on Twitter. But this morning, when I saw that emotions cooled down but the discussion is going in some wrong direction I decided to write. Please read this reaction from Ukraine and try to understand that my intention is to avoid some misinterpretations.

First and foremost, this wasn’t an operation intended to ridicule media or use an honest reaction to those mourning. Let’s not forget that Russia financed a network of assassins to kill Babchenko and, as SBU claims, some other people. Russia is a country, which is using terror to kill, threaten, and undermine critics of own regime.

Yes, the media component and reactions to Babchenko’s death were incredibly intense. Just like other people, I’m asking myself did we really have to go through this cruel emotional rollercoaster? But unlike many people, I’m not saying that there were other ways to do it. These are just loud but empty words. We don’t have all the details, we don’t know all the options that were available. When I think about this issue with my cool blood, I realize that it couldn’t have been done in another way. You must understand that Babchenko is a public person, popular one, very closely followed both in Ukraine and Russian. It wasn’t possible not to admit publicly that there was an attempt on his life. It was inevitable that people would react to this news. It is very well understood that many of them feel used. Trust me, my first reaction to the news that he’s alive was a mixture of hesitation and anger. But we must accept that we were only some small pieces in the bigger game aimed at saving someone we said we cherish so much. Only, of course, if the condolences we shared were sincere.

Secondly, this story reveals to me a tendency of having a critical stance towards Ukrainian institutions no matter what happens. A few hours after news of Babchenko’s assassination hit the internet, I started seeing comments on Twitter that, among other things, that the SBU was to blame for failing to prevented the murder.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I haven’t seen tweets accusing “lazy and impotent” MI6 after the assassination attempts on former spy Sergei Skripal in the UK earlier this year.

I’ve chosen this example intentionally because of the similarities between the two case: both are murder attempts on a Russian citizen abroad planned and sponsored by Russia.

But unlike MI6, the Ukrainian SBU has been accused of being infiltrated by Russian agents and largely incapable of protecting people in Ukraine. When it turned out SBU did something, which in fact was a successful operation that prevented a murder as well as uncovering the assassins, I again read angry comments “It should have been done in a different way”.

I would like to remind you one very important component that many tend to forget in this discussion. Babchenko. Why people who only yesterday praised him for being the brave and fearless critic of Putin regime, an intelligent journalist, an experienced veteran of two Chechen wars suddenly suggest that he was only a puppet in SBU’s hands? The person we described in our condolences wouldn’t agree to put himself under the spotlight for the “SBU PR show.” He wouldn’t agree to put his family in danger if he didn't know it was worth it. The SBU is not a perfect, brilliant and always effective organization. No one has doubts about that. But in this very case level of demonization is unfair.

Thirdly, West keeps forgetting we are dealing with Russia, a terrorist state. The Crimea is annexed. The war in Eastern Ukraine is still underway. MH17 is shot down. Ukrainian political prisoners are still illegally held in Russia. And yet the critics still demand elegance and beauty from the SBU’s operations.

At the same time, many Western leaders still find it acceptable to criticize Russian president Vladimir Putin today but make trade deals with him or accepting invitations to the opening of the World Cup from him tomorrow.

From the many comments that I saw, the criticism is about the way the SBU operation was carried out and that “It should have been done in different way.” Why do so many of us still believe that can be another way? That it is possible to deal with a terrorist state in an elegant manner without hurting anyone’s feelings.

I truly don’t want to offend anyone, but I must say that I honestly see it as hypocrisy. To admit that Ukraine is a victim but then limit the ways it can protect itself? To mourn the murder of yet another journalist but later to say it wasn’t worth going to these lengths to save him? To criticize Ukraine for, yes, an inelegant, but successful operation, and not to say a word to highlight that Russia that has planned the killing?

Ukrainians reacted in a much different way. Of course, there are many angry voices here as well, but we also have a lot of pure joy and humour. Maybe because we have lost our illusions long time ago and West still thinks it can oppose Russia and remain within comfort zone? If I would have to choose between the life of a human being, not even mentioning the opposition or journalists, and the egos of others, I wouldn’t hesitate to chose the first one. This war has taught us that nothing can be more precious than human life.

Emotions don’t live long. Trust me, after some time we all will forget how we felt in these days, but Babchenko will be alive. And that is what matters.

An activist, journalist and co-founder of Global Ukrainians, an international network of Ukrainians worldwide, Kateryna Kruk was awarded the Atlantic Council Freedom Award for her work communicating the Euromaidan revolution to the world. She predicted a frozen conflict in July 2014, which has largely come to pass, and now comments on the progress of crucial reforms in Ukraine.