The faked assassination of Arkady Babchenko is a bizarre affair which has intriguing features similar to the murder of another journalist in Ukraine 18 years ago. The difference is that this previous killing was all too real, but in both cases the Ukrainian government and its security services showed the same weird capacity to discredit themselves by engaging in ill-conceived plots always likely to do them more harm than good.
The first of these scandals, which rapidly developed into a political crisis, began in November 2000 when a headless body was found by villagers in a wood on the outskirts of Kiev. The authorities were slow in identifying the corpse, but it seemed likely to be that of Georgiy Gongadze, the editor of an online paper called Ukraina Pravda that specialised in investigating official corruption.
Gongadze had disappeared on 16 September after dining with a friend and was last seen alive buying cat food in a shop on his way home. From the beginning, his friends suspected that his disappearance had been arranged by the security services of Leonid Kuchma, the Ukrainian president who was known to resent any criticism of his corrupt and authoritarian rule.
Even after the discovery of the decapitated body, it appeared unlikely that responsibility for the murder could ever be pinned on anybody in power. But this changed when Alexander Moroz, the well-regarded leader of the socialist opposition party in the Ukrainian parliament, revealed that he had been given a tape recording of Kuchma, his chief of staff and the interior minister in which they are heard denouncing Gongadze and discussing ways of silencing him, such as having him kidnapped by Chechen gangsters.