This Babchenko story doesn’t just stink, it’s not just a Ukrainian propaganda provocation as the Russian foreign ministry said, this is a story about how Ukraine ‘functions’ today as a state. In starting to look at this story, the first obvious point is that if the Russians want Babchenko dead, they still want him dead, and therefore the most logical thing for him to do would be to remain dead, at least publicly so. New identities and relocation are a dime a dozen and not difficult to pull off, given the number of identities which his could be swapped for. Therefore, there was no ‘hit’ from the Russians on Babchenko.
Babchenko seems to have gotten himself caught up with some underworld dealings, and wound up himself perhaps even the subject of a sting operation of its own kind. The final result was the SBU – Ukraine’s actual and leading mafia – in having a deal with Babchenko, some kompromat [компрометирующий материалon] – compromising material – on him, and putting this obviously weak-willed man of zero integrity, in an even more complicated situation, driving his own wife assuredly to the brink of madness.
This kompromat was probably homosexual relations, and possibly within that, fetishized domination.
The lesson from this all? The resurrected Babchenko deserves Ukraine and Ukraine deserves him. His wife, like most all Russians and Ukrainians, are the victims here, and they deserve better.
Babchenko suddenly turns up alive at an official press conference surrounding his own alleged murder. The murder, we are told by Ukrainian officials, was most probably going to involve Russian assassins.
The logic of the Ukrainian officials who know this, they claim, rests upon the fact that they had hired one of their own soldiers fighting on the pro Kiev side of the conflict to carry out the hit. Yes, that’s right. The Ukrainian officials are confident that the murder that wasn’t, would have involved Russian assassins had it been a real hit, and they know this because the person in the sting who they hired to pretend to kill Babchenko was an anti-Russian militia-man, of some designation, probably connected to one of the Banderist volunteer battalions.
If that doesn’t make sense, it’s because we can’t force it to.
According to CNN, whose reporting we can untangle:
The Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, later revealed more details about the alleged plot. According to a statement released by the SBU, Russian special services recruited a Ukrainian citizen — identified only as “G” — who was tasked with finding, for a payment, perpetrators for a number of high-impact terrorist acts, including the assassination of Babchenko.“He proposed to his friend, a former member of the ATO in the east of Ukraine, to execute, for $30,000, the contract kill on a Russian journalist, Arkady Babchenko. He has already transferred a deposit of $15,000,” said Vasyl Hrytsak.
Okay, that makes this a bit more clear, clear in its ridiculousness. So, it would have been Russians who go and hire a Ukrainian member of the ATO. Let’s work our way through that.
Given that an actual Russian plot would have been aimed at actually killing Babchenko and not just surrendering their failed hit-man in some pointless sting, would the Russian intelligence services obligated to carrying this out, have reached out to a random guy ”G”? This same ”G” who apparently was unready or unprepared to do this himself, who in turn would have reach out his friend, the former member of the ATO in the east of Ukraine, to execute, for $30k, the contract kill on Babchenko?
Given how closely linked these two security services, the Ukrainian SBU and the Russian FSB, were or are, wouldn’t such an operation, payment and all, combined with the relatively low value of human life in Ukraine, in addition to how we’ve seen things go down before, spell out something like a more reliable or to the point method of offing Babchenko? Wouldn’t the Russians interested in offing Babchenko just have someone from the SBU do it themselves? 30k can buy a lot of SBU.
One thought we have to set aside is that Babchenko was also a victim in all of this. To be fair, maybe he got tangled up in some personal debt issues, a grey market business venture of some kind that went off track, or whatever, because such is the nature of survival in Ukraine. So there he is, a Russian citizen living in Ukraine, being a somewhat known but not fantastically popular Kremlin-critic of a journalist. Either he reaches out to Ukrainian authorities, or they, having already some plot in mind, reach out to him. It’s clear he’s in a vulnerable position.
Where this whole story turns upside-down is with the realization that Babchenko had some serious skeletons in his closet.
The CNN story sheds some interesting light on a few dimensions, which given CNN’s editorial line and propensity to specifically not cover these things otherwise, I found them illuminating to be included in their piece, and these two lines from the story taken together, have us reading this:
During the news conference Wednesday, Babchenko thanked the Ukrainian security services for saving his life. He also apologized to his wife and all those who believed he had been killed — but said the secrecy had been unavoidable.“I would like to apologize for what you all had to go through … because I’ve buried friends and colleagues many times, and I know it’s a sickening-vomiting feeling when you have to bury your colleagues,” he said. “Also I would like to apologize to my wife for the hell she went through in those two days. Olechka, I’m sorry, but there were no options here, either.”He described how he first claimed to have broken his leg and then was requested to “disappear somewhere” in the weeks leading up to the staged murder, in a bid to thwart the assassins.
There’s a lot up there to understand, but first this:
The elaborate ruse raised many questions. Chief among them, why was it necessary to go to such extraordinary lengths to expose the plot, who was in on it, and what did Olechka Babchenko really see when she found the bleeding body of her husband?At the news conference on Wednesday, none of these was addressed. Instead, flanked by Ukranian security officials, wearing a hoodie and occasionally flashing a sheepish smile, Babchenko launched into an explanation of the ploy.
So to understand this, we have Babchenko who feared for his life for certain reasons we’ll explain, and moved to Ukraine. But it’s only in Ukraine that his life begins to unravel. First a broken leg – really, why? Was that a ‘shut-up or else’ leg breaking? Because that doesn’t really seem to be how one goes about a hit. If there’s a hit, there’s a hit. Certainly that’s not how journalists are silenced. Now, being involved in business undertakings and owing a big sum of money to a loan-shark, or hush-money to an extorter – that’s exactly what gets you a broken leg. That, and pissing off individuals. But this is not how intelligence services operate, at least not when doing official business.
To be clear, if the Russian authorities wanted him dead, they still want him dead. The whole story about Russians wanting him dead makes little sense if he simply turns up alive. If the death was faked, then ‘stay dead‘. Now, I can see the Russians wanting some Kompromat on the guy, and what that would look like, is what we’ll be getting into.
Destroying Babchenko’s reputation, or whatever’s left of it, would have been far more useful to Russia, than another supposed journalist martyr. Creating martyrs has something approaching the opposite effect of what was intended, which is also why most western stories about who Putin knocked off are rarely plausible.
Ha’aretz took their cue correctly, and on May 30th, before Babchenko’s miraculous resurrection was announced, ran it this way:
‘Why Putin could end up like Saddam Hussein’. Alright, so the man was a massive troll, the embodiment of the spirit and soul of the troll. He certainly made no friends when he claimed that the Russian musicians who died over the skies of Syria in a plane crash, deserved such. Given the Russian public’s support for Putin’s policies especially in the area of foreign affairs, and especially given that those who perished were living cultural monuments to the Russian experience, Babchenko was probably wise to realize that any random guy on the street corner would lay into him if he was recognized. But Babchenko’s history with Russophobia isn’t recent. But it’s tied up with all sorts of psycho-sexual intrigue which gives us tremendous insight into the human experience.
You see, Babchenko isn’t a fake journalist or a fake writer. He’s a veteran of the Russian army and served in the Chechen wars, and wrote about his experiences. There is little doubt that Babchenko’s childhood, his personal proclivities, and so on, shaped his understanding of that huge conflict. Western sources have this figure as high as 160,000 total dead, combatants and civilians combined. Figures are probably lower given that agendas are involved, but by what order, we can’t say here. His best known work is his 2006 book, One Soldier’s War.
The book, as well as the author, being critical of the Russian military during the Chechen wars, was given some positive attention in western press, and among Russian liberals. What’s strange though is that he had a strong fetishist interest in military life and all things martial, which predate the conflict. He could have received a deferment and not served if he had not wanted to, but he did. But he describes his own yearning to fight in the war as ‘romantic’. But this was not a patriotic romanticism, or nationalistic ferver, nor was it anti-Caucasian chauvinism.
In the twisted mind of Babchenko, this was a romanticization of the struggles encountered by soldiers, the deprivation, and a romanticization of wars’ horrors. He wanted to be dominated by the conditions of war, to surrender to them.
He didn’t just go once, the first time under Yeltsin, but enlisted and served a second time a few years later, under Putin.
But One Soldier’s War is more than a soldier’s diary. There was a point here to be made, and the inferences to works like Junger’s ‘Storm of Steel‘ and Remarque’s ‘All’s Quiet on the Western Front‘ are evident, and in fact confessed to in the same Guardian interview above, at least with regard to Remarque.
Besides the recounting of the daily burdens of a soldier’s life, the grueling search of meaning and the struggle for survival, we have some other very strange dimensions, which may relate at the end of the day to our most recent chapter. One Solder’s War contains whole sections which are fantasized projections of a purely homoerotic nature.
Described are the romantic relations between older and younger soldiers, born of rapes and beatings, of older soldiers onto younger soldiers, but then normalized. One would have to have some knowledge of Russian culture to know that homosexuality is not rampant in Russia, and not rampant in the armed forces. There would naturally be some sub-culture, but the idea of normalized rape en masse, does not fit the culture, how its dealt with in normal civilian life, and how its viewed in the armed services especially.
Hence, we would expect any such on-goings to be consensual in nature, but we would also expect a combination of repression and projected fantasies to render these as forced, as ‘rapes’ in his own diary, which was both his rationalization and his confessional. To explain this part requires a little realism. Rapes happen, Russian soldiers were – in hundreds of thousands – deployed in Chechnya to put down an insurrection, and then to do it again. Chechen women were vulnerable, and they are oft sexualized in Russian literature and culture as objects, even prizes. It would be incomprehensible to think that one rape did not happen. Or ten times as many as one. Or more. Looting and rape are standard in war, officially condemned, but nevertheless occurent.
The point here, though an unfortunate one, is that there are channels for these animalistic urges, which are naturally unleashed within the context of war and mayhem. Homosexual rape orgies are not among them, unless they involve firstly, homosexuals. They remain among homosexuals, because the reprisals faced when these rings come to light, are major. That is what it means that the practice is not normalized.
Lastly, Babchenko didn’t enlist to fight in Chechnya as a Russian patriot, as he himself explains. He could have sought deferment, but had some therefore perverse reason for wanting to go. The old Guardian interview is really eye-opening if one already has a coherent working model of the human experience. I’ll close with the last most interesting and telling quote from the 11 year old Guardian write-up. ‘Black eyes’ are a feature that Chechens and other Caucasians are known for, in Russian culture and literature. While Chechen women would have been desired by Russian soldiers for their ‘black eyes’, Babchenko would not have been the object of desires. And so he engages in a brokeback bromance projection filled with every single element required for homoerotic literature.
Babchenko’s quest for fantasy fulfillment at any cost, in a society that shuns his particular flavor of it, led to his own undoing. Maybe the Russian ‘hit’ on Babchenko, if there was one, was a low level kompromat obtaining operation. These are not carried out directly by the FSB, but by a decentralized network of citizen assets, of all ages, for whom concepts of patriotism and corruption are used as shields and weapons, in their series of meandering intel operations. In the west, patriotism is used as a cover for corruption. In Russia, corruption is used as a cover for patriotism.
Maybe Russians wanted kompromat on Babchenko, through one of these less reliable (though strong in their own utility) citizen network intel operations. Maybe they got it through these Ukrainians who decided to sell it back to the Ukrainians instead.
Maybe the Ukrainians did it all themselves, and convinced Babchenko that it was Russians. The point, after all, for the Ukrainians, was to make a big headline that Russia had offed yet another ‘defector’, in the wake of the Novichok hoax which saw the Skripals return to normal life unscathed.
Maybe the Ukrainians intended to both kill Babchenko, make another martyr, and save his reputation. Maybe it was the Russians who saved Babchenko or forced the Ukrainians to come clean about his actually being alive.
One part we can be sure of, there was an attempt to shake down Babchenko once the kompromat existed.
Here the kompromat was easy to obtain, and Babchenko was pulled into yet another drama with themes of violence and submission to domination, and his final public admission and apology. Violence, submission, and apology – the three center pieces of his existence – precisely the dragon that he has spent his adult life chasing.
The Russian army is a dangerous place, even in peace, even miles from the enemy. One Soldier’s War is probably at its most disturbing – and most powerful – when Babchenko describes the younger soldiers cowering in fear of the older men. Drunk, seemingly deranged bullies drag them out of bed, half-kill them, threaten to rape them and then beat them all over again for daring to have black eyes.