Arkady Babchenko, a Russian journalist critical of the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin, has been killed in Kiev. He was reportedly shot in the back three times by the assassin.
Since the early 1990s, a number of Russian reporters who have covered the situation in Chechnya, contentious stories on organized crime, state and administrative officials, and large businesses have been killed. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, since 1992, 50 journalists have been murdered for their professional activity in Russia (which made it the third deadliest country for journalists in the 1992–2006 period. Estimates note that 30 journalists from 1993 to 2000 were killed, and 20 journalists have been killed since 2000. Some internal estimates within Russia peg the number to be even higher. The Amnesty International reported in 2009, that "Human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers who spoke openly about human rights abuses faced threats and intimidation. The police appeared to be reluctant to investigate such threats and a climate of impunity for attacks on civil society activists prevailed." The Amnesty International reported also a "climate of growing intolerance towards independent views".
One of the most high-profile murders took place in 2006. Anna Stepanovna Politkovskaya was a Russianjournalist and human rights activist who reported on political events in Russia, in particular, the Second Chechen War. On 7 October 2006, she was murdered in the elevator of her block of flats, an assassination that attracted international attention. In June 2014, five men were sentenced to prison for the murder, but it is still unclear who ordered or paid for the contract killing.
The Skripal spy attack
In March 2018, Sergei Viktorovich Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer turned spy for Britain′s intelligence services, was attacked. He and his daughter were found unconscious after falling victims to a poison attack. It was later revealed that they were attacked by a nerve agent. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia both were hospitalized, critically ill. In addition, three police officers who responded to the crime scene also required treatment for breathing difficulties.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has stated that since the origin of the nerve agent is from Russia, it is highly likely that Kremlin was behind the attack. She said that the spy had been attacked by a “military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia” and called it an “indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom”, as well as a “brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil”. She has called for a “long term response” to the threat posed by Russia. The UK has called for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to investigate the issue.
Arkady Babchenko was a veteran war correspondent and a frequent critic of Kremlin. In 2017, he had to leave Russia after he caused a scandal with a post he published on Facebook. In the post he expressed indifference over the deaths of a military choir and other passengers aboard a Russian plane that crashed en route to Syria. This resulted in him getting death threats and his home address being published.
After leaving Russia, he briefly stayed in Israel and Czech Republic. He eventually settled in Kiev. In May 2018, he was shot in the back three times by an unknown assassin after he stepped out of his apartment. He was running errands for his household. He was found bleeding by his wife and later passed away while in an ambulance.
Kiev is seen as a refuse for many Kremlin critics but it is also the home to multiple targeted assassinations. Most recently in 2016, investigative journalist Pavel Sheremet was killed outside his home as a result of car bombing.
Ukraine and Russian authorities have both placed the blame on the other with regards to Babchenko’s murder. “Ukraine is becoming the most dangerous country for reporters,” Russian lawmaker Yevgeny Revenko said in remarks carried by the state RIA Novosti news agency. “The Ukrainian government can’t guarantee basic freedoms.”
“His murder is a terrorist attack on the entire journalistic community, on all of us who cover the conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” Babchenko’s old friend and colleague at Novaya Gazeta.
Babchenko is not the only Kremlin critic to have faced consequences of his opinions. American-born British financier and businessman Bill Browder, who is also known for being critical of the Russian government, has been arrested in Spain under a "Russian Interpol arrest warrant". Browder confirmed the news through his Twitter account.
Our assessment is that Babchenko’s murder may indicate the danger that journalists and critics of Kremlin are subjected to on a daily basis. However, it is also important to ascertain the source of the attack and trace whether or not it is related to Kremlin before accusations are made.