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Exiled Russian Journalist Babchenko Says He Left Ukraine 'Temporarily'

Arkady Babchenko (file photo)
Arkady Babchenko (file photo)

A dissident Russian journalist who once promised facetiously to return to his homeland in a U.S.-made Abrams tank, says he "temporarily" left Ukraine, where he has lived in self-imposed exile since fall 2017.

Arkady Babchenko told RFE/RL via Skype on November 4 that he had left Ukraine for an unidentified country due to anxiety over his safety after the April election of Volodymyr Zelenskiy as president of Ukraine. He did not say where he was speaking from.

Babchenko criticized Zelenskiy's politics, saying that he felt that "Ukraine's reputation on the international arena isn't what it was before" the new president took power.

"Russia's return to PACE, [Ukraine's] refusal from activities in the Kerch Strait [near Russia-annexed Crimea], the troop withdrawal, Ukraine's retreat back inside its territory, appointment of absolutely insane and strange people to the key state posts...[Ukraine's] general trend toward capitulation...all that is enough for me [to leave]," Babchenko said, adding that his departure was only "a temporary evacuation."

The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) on May 29 staged an assassination of Babchenko as part of a sting operation to catch people involved in an alleged Russian plot to kill him.

The SBU never presented any direct evidence linking Moscow to the alleged plot.

On August 30, 2018, a court in Kyiv sentenced Ukrainian national Borys Herman to 4 1/2 years in prison as the man whom Russian secret services allegedly recruited to organize the assassination plot.

Then-SBU head Vasyl Hrytsak said that Herman had pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the authorities.

Herman is alleged to have promised $40,000 to a would-be assassin for the killing of Babchenko.

The alleged would-be killer, a former Ukrainian monk-turned-army veteran named Oleksiy Tsymbalyuk, said he went to the SBU after Herman approached him.

Tsymbalyuk said he worked with the agency to foil the plot.

The SBU operation of faking Babchenko’s death was heavily criticized by media watchdogs, journalists, and others who said it undermined the credibility of journalists and Ukrainian officials.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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