A dissident Russian journalist has blasted "the keepers of morality" who criticized his faked assassination by Ukrainian authorities, and vowed to live long enough to dance on President Vladimir Putin's grave.
In a Facebook post late on May 30, Arkady Babchenko promised to "die at the age of 96, having danced on Putin's grave" as well as taking a selfie standing on a tank" on Tverskoi [Bulvar in downtown Moscow]."
He later wrote against "the keepers of morality, who are dissatisfied with the fact that I somehow wrongly, in their opinion, did not die."
Speaking at a press conference in Kyiv on May 31, Babchenko dismissed criticism of his cooperation with the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) in the staging of his death.
"My goal was to stay alive and ensure the safety of my family," Babchenko said. "That is the first thing I am thinking about. Journalistic standards are the last thing I am thinking about now."
Babchenko on May 31 also revealed details about how he worked together voluntarily with the SBU to make it appear as if he had been killed by a gunman in Kyiv.
He said the ruse included being smeared with swine blood and taken to a morgue on May 29, where he changed clothes and watched news reports about his "death" on television.
The SBU said it faked Babchenko's assassination on May 29 in order to foil a plot by Russian security services to assassinate the well-known Kremlin critic.
Babchenko, who is now living at a guarded place in Kyiv, made a dramatic appearance at a May 30 televised press conference in Kyiv where he told reporters "there was no other way" to deal with Russian death threats against him.
"At the end of the day it became clear to me that there was really no choice available for me that was worth talking about," Babchenko said. "Where was I supposed to run? [Former Russian spy Sergei] Skripal ran to England, they were, I think, under protection, and still they got them, right?"
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko -- who said he was aware of the plot to fake Babchenko's death -- later met with the journalist.
"We finally learned to defend," Poroshenko said. "Defend the country, defend its citizens and do it with extraordinary professional efforts of the new Security Service, which is capable of passing exams of any complexity."
The Ukrainian Embassy in London* said in a May 31 statement that the "hybrid war" waged by Russia against Ukraine "demands unorthodox approaches while effecting countermeasures. No other way to uncover the Russian-schemed attempt at Mr. Babchenko’s life had existed than a special operation conducted in full secrecy."
'Pathetic And Regrettable'
But the SBU operation is also receiving heavy criticism from media watchdogs, journalists, and others who say it undermined the credibility of journalists and of Ukrainian officials.
"I deplore the decision to spread false information on the life of a journalist. It is the duty of the state to provide correct information to the public," said Harlem Desir, the representative on the freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
In Paris, Reporters Without Borders head Christophe Deloire said that staging Babchenko’s death "would not help the cause of press freedom."
"It is pathetic and regrettable that the Ukrainian police have played with the truth, whatever their motive...for the stunt," he added.
And the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said "this extreme action by the Ukrainian authorities has the potential to undermine public trust in journalists and to mute outrage when they are killed."
Moscow -- which Ukrainian officials had initially accused of being behind Babchenko's killing -- denounced the incident as a provocation.
Relations between Moscow and Kyiv have been badly damaged by Russia's seizure of Crimea in 2014 and backing for separatist militants in a devastating war in eastern Ukraine.
SBU head Vasyl Hrytsak said on May 30 that the agency received information about a plot to kill 30 people in Ukraine, including Babchenko. The SBU declined to say who the other 29 people were.
Hrytsak said a detained Ukrainian citizen in the case -- a former separatist fighter in eastern Ukraine -- was recruited by Russia to find someone to kill Babchenko.
The Ukrainian suspect was given $40,000 to organize the killing of the journalist -- $30,000 for the killer and $10,000 for being an intermediary.
On May 31, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Hrytsak "should account for his words."
Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova earlier described the Ukrainian operation as a "masquerade" done for "propagandistic effect."
*CORRECTION: This article has been amended to change the reference to the Ukrainian Embassy in the United Kingdom.