RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – May 31, 2018

TODAY: “Murdered” journalist Babchenko appears at press conference, says death was faked, Kremlin has no comment; businessman Browder accuses Russia of abusing Interpol after sixth detention; foreign investors drop $3bn in wake of sanctions; Naftogaz appeals to Switzerland to enforce Gazprom ruling; no sign of let up on racist football incidents.

In an extraordinary twist, “murdered” journalist Arkady Babchenko, who was reported shot to death in Kiev yesterday, appeared at a press conference to reveal that his murder was staged by Ukrainian special forces (SBU) as part of a sting operation to uncover a genuine Russian plot against his life. (RFE/RL has a partial transcript of his statement.) The SBU said it had “indisputable evidence of the terrorist activity of Russian special forces in Ukraine”. Ukraine’s Prosecutor General said that the faked death was designed to make the organisers of the plot believe they had succeeded, but the details remain obscure. The Independent provides background on how Babchenko came to be in his current position as a Kremlin foe. The New York Times wrote, “One thing is certain: The Kremlin will seize on this official deceit to show the lengths to which its enemies will go to tarnish Russia.” The Foreign Ministry called the staged murder an “anti-Russian provocation”; Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on the new twist. 

After being detained and then released by Spanish police, British businessman Bill Browder, a prominent Kremlin critic, accused Russia of abusing the Interpol red notice system, in his case “for the sixth time”. Police said he was released because the Russian warrant for his arrest was found to be out of date. Foreign investors have offloaded about $3 billion worth of Russian local currency bonds since the latest wave of US sanctions. Ukraine’s Naftogaz has asked Swiss courts to enforce the ruling that it should receive $2.6 billion from Gazprom, with which it has not yet complied. The Guardian reports on the scandal of Russia’s “defrauded co-investors” who are still waiting for construction to be completed on apartments they bought years ago.

The man who attacked the famous Ilya Repin painting, “Ivan the Terrible”, said he was not influenced by alcohol but by ideological reasons regarding the reputation of the Tsar. The Moscow Times notes that the attack on the painting “shows, in a grotesque but obvious way, where aggressive and politicized speculation about Russia’s history will lead”. Despite attempts to reduce incidents of racial discrimination at soccer matches ahead of the World Cup, the number of racist and homophobic chants is actually going up.

PHOTO: Hay fills a goalpost during the traditional Cossack games outside the village of Arkhonskaya in the Republic of North Ossetia, Russia, May 30, 2018. (REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko)