Tag Archives: Arkady Babchenko

Babchenko Voskres! (Babchenko has Risen!)

Well. This has been quite the day. I’d even go so far as to call it a historic moment. The scripture says Jesus died and rose again on the third day. Arkady Babchenko did it in less than 12 hours.

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Shalom, this was a special operation by the SBU!

Yesterday’s post now feels like part of some kind of bizarre psychological experiment- it was written when I and all of my friends (as well as Babchenko’s own immediate family) were certain that he had been murdered. As such, our tweets, our status updates, yesterday’s post- they are now like fossilized remains of a moment in history. A moment when for everyone who was watching, including the Kremlin lackeys who were immediately gearing up for another disinformation campaign about the latest “provocation,” Arkady Babchenko was the latest Russian dissident to be murdered.

For me it began with an alert from RIA Novosti that he was “alive.” I stared in awe and thought “Well this is a bold new direction for Kremlin disinfo.” Then the reports from more reputable outlets started coming in. And a few minutes later the whole Russia/Ukraine watching world lost its collective mind. Below is a short video presentation that serves as the perfect metaphor for the reactions on Twitter:

Of course it’s Twitter so people had to pick fights, even with people nominally “on the same side,” so today’s War of Takes boiled down to a spectrum of opinions between “SBU Did Nothing Wrong” and “Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think of Ukraine’s Credibility?!”

What I found most interesting was watching how many commentators’ position, including my own, evolved over the course of the day in real time as we all began to process the reality of what was happening. Team SBU Did Nothing Wrong was angry at many commentators, including veteran Ukraine correspondents, for being seemingly upset about the SBU’s credibility and wondering whether this would be a major boon to the Kremlin propaganda machine. Personally I was cautious. I acknowledged that there were ethical implications in this issue, but like many of my friends I was just happy to see that Arkady Babchenko was alive. If he had actually been killed, not only would it be another sign that the Putinist regime can kill with impunity beyond its borders, but his death would be accompanied by a flood of propaganda and multiple contradictory “alternative” explanations blaming the killing on anyone and everyone but the most obvious suspect. They were already beginning the whole process with their кому выгодно? (qui bono?) arguments online.

But things didn’t go according to plan. Unlike in the case of Litvinenko or the Skripals, when the perpetrators escaped (and in the latter case aren’t even known), the agent who ordered the hit on Babchenko, and who was allegedly planning several other hits on Russian dissidents in Ukraine, is in custody. I am still extremely skeptical towards the SBU, but this time they seem to have got something right, and what a thing to get right at that!

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“The SBU resurrected Babchenko so they wouldn’t have to investigate his murder.” Sickest burn of the day reminds us that the SBU still has a lot to answer for. 

And as for the “credibility issue” and claims that this will benefit Russian propaganda? Sorry but those arguments don’t hold water. If anything would have helped their propaganda narrative it would have been if they’d murdered yet another dissident abroad, then flooded the information space with more conspiracy theories, all accompanied by “a knowing smirk and wink,” as Mark Galeotti put it.

Knowing what I know about Kremlin propaganda, I’ll ask you to forgive me for being skeptical about any upcoming paradigm shift in Russian propaganda thanks to this stunt. Yeah, I’ve already seen one of these pro-Kremlin dipshits try to claim that this “proves” the White Helmets staged chemical attacks, for example. So what? Claims like this are easily debunked and dismissed by pointing out that the reason we know this particular murder was deliberately staged is because less than 24 hours later all those involved called a press conference where they openly admitted the whole thing and explained how and why they did it. If the White Helmets ever do that in regards to any past or future chemical attacks in Syria, I’ll definitely start taking those conspiracy claims seriously. Only when that happens, and not a second sooner.

I’m very sorry to shatter some people’s hopes, but I don’t believe the Kremlin was about to come clean on the Skripal case, Nemtsov’s murder, or MH17 until the SBU dicked everything up and handed the Kremlin media machine a new argument. I am quite confident you will only get an admission on all that when the Putin regime is finally overthrown and the archives are once again opened much like they were after the collapse of the Soviet Union. So yeah, I’m sure you’ll hear Putin’s peanut gallery bring up Babchenko from time to time, but they’ll sound just as idiotic as they always do. And as past research has shown, most Kremlin propaganda does not convert people. It tends to appeal only to those already inclined toward it. If it does influence anyone not already on board, I suspect it just makes them apathetic and ambivalent to “both sides.”

I’d say the worst take on the whole credibility issue comes from Reporters Without Borders, who condemned the operation saying that “Nothing” could justify such deception. Yes, nothing. Not even saving a life, or several lives. I suppose if a journalist in German-occupied Poland had the opportunity to avoid identifying a source as Jewish they should have told the truth because nothing could ever justify breaking the rules of journalistic ethics. Goddammit these people betrayed the news! The neeeeews! 

Seriously though, they seem to forget that Babchenko wasn’t participating in this as a journalist, but as someone whose life had been threatened. Babchenko had received death threats for years until a particularly vitriolic wave of threats initiated by a state-sponsored hate campaign against him in late 2016 finally drove him from his home country. There are ethical concerns and then there are priorities.

Lastly, the reader might wonder if this new development changes anything I wrote yesterday, when I justifiably lashed out at fake, self-proclaimed “infowarriors” and “patriots” who act like tweeting rambling nonsense punctuated by words like “dezinformatsiya” and “kompromat” puts you on the front line of the New Cold War. Nope. Not a chance. Non, je ne regrette rien! Okay maybe I regret that I discarded nearly all the jokes I wanted to put in the post before hearing about Babchenko’s then apparent murder, but apart from that, why change a thing? This episode just drives home the point I was trying to make even further.

Yesterday I used Babchenko’s apparent murder as an example of the most extreme consequence for truly opposing the Kremlin regime, not on Twitter or a blog, but in real life. By the same token, finding out someone you and many of your friends personally knew got murdered for their real world dissent is par for the course for those who live this life in Russia or Ukraine. Obviously finding out he wasn’t dead is ultimately a huge relief, but the trauma, depression, and rage many of us experienced for a barely a day was totally real. Worse still is that after the initial shock, my first thoughts turned to who among my friends would be next- several immediately come to mind as prime targets. I’m absolutely certain I wasn’t the only one thinking that either. And those rapidly evolving positions I alluded to earlier? That’s people who have been on an emotional roller coaster reeling from the shock and struggling to adjust to the new reality. In a way it’s like mock execution by proxy- indisputably better than actual mock execution but still a shock to the system nonetheless.

Everything that has happened in the past 24 hours reaffirms what I wrote yesterday about what this part of the world does to people who’ve lived it. There’s the darkness, the pain, the fear, the hopelessness, the paranoia, the depression, the fury, and then…there’s the sheer thrill of it. You hate it with every fiber of your being until you’re out of it and you’d do anything just to get back over there like a moth drawn to the flame.

As for the past 48 hours, it was messy, it may raise ethical questions, and the SBU’s still got a lot to answer for, but for now Arkady Babchenko’s alive, and the man who tried to arrange his murder (and possibly many others) is behind bars. The good guys won today.

Catch your breath and get ready. The week’s not over yet.

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Keyboard Commandos vs. Real Life

 

I have to warn you ahead of time that this is going to be a very serious post. I initially planned it to be somewhat serious with some jokes thrown in to lighten the mood a bit. That was all before this afternoon, when I first saw the news that Russian dissident journalist Arkady Babchenko had been murdered outside his apartment in Kyiv. So the jokes are out, but because this tragic event only reinforces the original point I wanted to make, I have to write this piece.

Just for full disclosure, Babchenko and I were never close friends; we were acquaintances at most. I met him once in Moscow, possibly twice but I don’t remember as it was always with a group of people. I do have a number of friends who were closer, however. I’m just getting this all out of the way because the significance of this will be made clear a bit later. Thus let’s move on to what would have been the beginning of this post.

As some of my Twitter followers already know that last night I came under attack by the Dipshit Duo of Eric Garland (or someone reasonably claiming to be him) and Louise Mensch, as well as a number of their moronic wine mom fans. Because these people possess the communication skills of a third-grader drunk on Robitussin, it took me a while to figure out what had suddenly drawn their attention to me. After all, both Garland and Mensch have blocked me almost from the very get-go back in 2017.

From what I was able to piece together using Google Translate for Dumbass-to-English, it seems they were upset by this tweet.

Apparently one of the cretins took this as a personal threat or challenge, because these are essentially delusional people who think they’re the protagonist in their own blockbuster spy thriller, so of course it had to be about them. In reality, while this tweet was indeed inspired by some of these people, it is simply a prediction about something that will inevitably happen if this kind of behavior continues to spread. In fact it really doesn’t apply so much to people like Garland or Mensch because neither seem to exist outside of Twitter. They have largely been shut out of the natsec and Russia/Eurasia sphere because nobody takes them seriously. Even the major media networks figured out their grift fairly quickly, which is why you no longer hear them mentioned despite all this 24/7 Russiagate coverage.

No, those two simply aren’t in the tier of jackasses who are most likely to get popped in the face at a networking event because they called the wrong person a Russian agent. If someone like Garland even managed to find and get to such an event, he’d probably be rapidly escorted out by security when they notice him nervously stuffing his pockets with sugar packets.

But there are people who both engage in this behavior and do actually leave their house and mingle in the same circles, and I was merely predicting that some of these people may one day face a real life backlash for their online attacks. It’s not a threat, it’s not posturing, it’s a statement of fact that is often forgotten these days, when so much of life is lived online and not in reality.

Now having said all that, I do have a burning-hot hatred for all of these people, including Garland, Mensch, and their fan club, and there is very good reason for this. Whether it’s someone with at least some credentials like John Schindler or someone who has no idea what they’re talking about like the aforementioned Twitter stars, all of these people routinely give an air of immeasurable unwarranted self-importance. They style themselves “patriots” and defenders of the republic, and their fans go even further. The way their fans tweet, you’d think that they’re sitting in a foxhole manning the last line of defense between American liberal democracy and Putinist tyranny. If they’re not labeling other people as Russian trolls, bots, and agents, they’re calling them “keyboard commandos,” which is rich because that’s precisely what these people are.

I think few Westerners, in particular Americans, have any idea of what it’s like living under Putin’s regime or having to cover it as a journalist. It’s hard to describe, but there’s a very noticeable difference between when I talk to someone who’s “been there” and someone who hasn’t. With the former we have a shared language, with the latter there is a clear disconnect, sometimes so much so that I might as well be explaining Russia in Japanese.

Sure, it’s never all bad. I can talk about good times- the discoveries, the parties, the friendships. But I’ve noticed even as far back as 2008 that every conversation inevitably turns dark. The topic of corruption is brought up. Then there’s the stories of journalists murdered with impunity. Rigged elections. Veterans of the Second World War freezing to death in their flats. Side-stepping a corpse on a metro platform. You don’t consciously want to talk about these things; they just come up.

Then you add more years. You get into journalism and suddenly it is now your job to know about all those horrible things. The worse it is, the more important it is for you to find it. And you’ll have no trouble finding it because it turns out the same year you get into the business is the same year the regime loses its mind and starts the largest war in Europe since Yugoslavia in the 1990’s. I remember well how many of my first stories all included body counts. I remember having to slowly and diplomatically explain to an editor how the reason why the body count in a mortar attack in Donetsk had to be updated with one more killed is because wounded people sometimes succumb to their wounds, thus moving them into the killed category.

Seeing the war in the Donbas up close was just like pouring gasoline on a fire. It begins simple enough- you see towns in formerly Russian-controlled territory like Kostantynivka or Slovyansk, you see how dilapidated and impoverished they are, and you understand that this is very much the fault of all previous governments of Ukraine going back to 1991. You very quickly learn to distinguish battle damage from decay that took decades, and your thoughts turn to how the Kremlin saw these people as a prop to justify a war of naked aggression for the sake of imperialism and neocolonialism.

In order to “save Russian speakers” who were never under threat from anything but rampant corruption and organized crime, the paranoid delusional regime forced those same “Russian speakers” to shelter all night in basements in cities like Avdiivka. You walk through residential areas of the city and see sagging stairwells and a steel door bowed outward from a shell that exploded inside the flat. You eat dinner at a restaurant that lost three of its staff when a Russian shell hit its outdoor grill. You meet a woman who now lives in the hospital she works at because her flat was destroyed in the shelling. Putin saved that Russian-speaker from home ownership, apparently. In the morning you see the people coming into the city hall to get free plastic sheeting to seal up the windows that got blown out in the night. They’re almost all elderly. One old man stares, mouth agape. He looks like he could have survived the Second World War, and if so he almost certainly would have felt self-assured that in spite of the harrowing sacrifices that victory in that conflict demanded, his generation secured lasting peace, if not prosperity. Putin’s artillery ended that peace.

I could go on, but some readers might have already noted I’m mostly recalling things I personally witnessed back in 2015. My experiences are in many ways just the tip of the iceberg. I have plenty of friends and acquaintances who have spent far more time at the front, both as journalists and veterans. Some of them risked their freedom or even their lives investigating events in Russia. Among the former are many who have spent more time with internally displaced people and refugees. Just as my job was once to monitor the worst of Russia, theirs was to do the same in Ukraine, and they can easily match any story about injustice in Russia with one in Ukraine. Pre- or post-Maidan, your choice.

Of course I know plenty of people who aren’t soldiers or journalists, but ordinary people living in Russia or Ukraine. Apart from one unpleasant encounter I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid the wrath of the FSB. A friend of mine who had nothing to do with journalism or activism of any kind was far less fortunate, and ended up getting threatened and tortured for nearly 12 hours by FSB who he believes were involved in some kind of criminal activity. I have other friends who were forced out of Russia because they fell afoul of the regime which robs and persecutes its own people so that a tiny minority can enjoy the most lavish luxury the West has to offer.  Collectively we have all witnessed the humiliation and brutalization of both the peoples of Russia and Ukraine by this sociopathic, kleptocratic regime.

And this one guy I knew…he just got shot today.

So that’s how we come back to Babchenko in all of this. Arkady Babchenko was, by any definition, the real deal. One friend of mine who knew him better than I said that Babchenko probably received more death threats than any Russian journalist he knew. Eventually someone made good on their threat, in Kyiv, no less.

By now I hope the reader is beginning to grasp why I have such a white-hot hatred for these self-appointed defenders of the republic. These people sit behind their Twitter accounts and lecture people on Russia issues with zero grounds to do so, and when they get called on their bullshit, their legions of gullible, unhinged morons defend their heroes by labeling the critics as agents of Russia or, most stupidly of all from a technical standpoint, bots. These people are essentially playing an online role-playing game in order to escape the boredom and utter pointlessness of their insignificant lives.

Gaming is the perfect analogy because essentially, what these people are doing is the equivalent of teenage Call of Duty gamers lecturing and ridiculing actual combat veterans. “I’ve got top kills on this map dozens of times, bro. I defend this country! What do you know about war, coward?” That’s basically it right there. Now imagine that gamer kid is 18 or 19, and he mouths off like that to the veteran in a bar. What do you think is going to happen? Who would you blame?

The grifters, both the total failures like Garland and Mensch and those who achieved modest success like Schindler and McKew, are portraying themselves as warriors defending democracy from the machinations of Putin, and yet they have never had to experience what that regime actually has to offer. They live lives of comfort in the West. At most, they’ll get trolled online, maybe by an actual paid employee of the Internet Research Agency if they’re really lucky. They won’t get that knock on the door late at night. They won’t get their heads bashed in by “cossacks” or have chemicals thrown in their face. They won’t be interrogated for hours on end by security services or charged with “extremism” because they liked a social media post or wrote online about finding a Pokemon in a church.

They won’t answer their door one evening and get shot.