Ukraine Claims Found List Of 47 Russian Assassination Targets

Ukrainian authorities claim they have uncovered a hit-list of 47 people -- mostly journalists -- who are potential Russian assassination targets as a result of their sting operation staging the faked murder of exiled Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko.

Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko wrote on Facebook on June 1 that the controversial operation, which involved top officials lying to the media and public about Babchenko's death, had helped security services uncover a list of 47 mainly Ukrainian and Russian-emigre journalists who he said "could be the next victims of terrorists."

The number of people Lutsenko claimed the Russian secret service is targeting is significantly higher than the 30 people Ukrainian authorities earlier had said were likely assassination targets.

Lutsenko said all 47 have been informed they are on the alleged hit-list, and arrangements are being made for their safety.

Russia did not immediately respond to Ukraine's claims.

Kyiv-based journalist Matvei Ganapolsky, who works for Ekho Moskvy radio, told the station that he and another prominent journalist Yevgeny Kiselev had both been summoned by the Ukrainian security service and warned of potential risk to their safety.

Ganapolsky said he was also shown additional materials on the Babchenko attack that showed "this is all serious and a real attack was in fact being prepared. They were planning to kill him."

In an effort to quell widespread criticism and questions about the sting operation from media and government officials, Ukrainian law enforcement chiefs including Lutsenko on June 1 met with Western diplomats to brief them on Kyiv's decision to stage the fake contract-style shooting of Babchenko.

Around a dozen diplomats went to Ukraine's prosecutor-general's office for the meeting with Lutsenko behind closed doors that lasted nearly two hours.

Diplomats attending the briefing were from major Western countries -- Germany, the United States, France, Britain, Italy,Japan, Australia, Norway, and Canada -- as well as the European Union and Council of Europe.

The prosecutor's office said the diplomats were told that law enforcement agents were able to "prevent the journalist's death" through a ruse that involved top officials -- and even Ukraine's president -- issuing false statements about his supposed murder over more than 12 hours on May 29 and 30.

Ukrainian authorities were also able to "fully document the organizer's criminal actions," gaining information on "possible potential victims, against whom it is likely terror attacks and murders were being planned," the office said.

The sting operation began on May 29 when Ukrainian police announced that Babchenko, a Russian-born journalist known for his outspoken anti-Kremlin views, had been shot dead outside his apartment in Kyiv.

After staging his "death" and taking his body to a morgue, authorities hid Babchenko overnight and he reappeared the next day, alive and well, at a news conference in Kyiv.

It was then that Babchenko and prosecutors revealed that the announcement of his death, which had prompted a grief-stricken reaction around the world overnight, was part of a sting operation aimed at foiling a real plot to assassinate the journalist.

The way the fake murder was staged has attracted criticism particularly from organizations representing journalists, which questioned the need for such extreme tactics.

Some government officials and commentators said the incident also undermined Kyiv's credibility and handed the Kremlin a propaganda gift.

Some Ukrainian allies in the West openly expressed unease with the incident. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who was visiting Kyiv during the week, said the incident had raised "questions" and it was "indispensable to shed light on what happened."

He called on Ukraine to clarify the situation to "encourage trust."

Reuters also quoted a senior European Union official as saying the staged murder had the potential to undermine trust in Kyiv if the government did not come forward quickly with evidence of the plot's links to Russia.

After Lutsenko's briefing on June 1, Reuters quoted a senior EU country diplomat as saying that the Ukrainian minister had given a convincing explanation to justify the sting operation.

"I'm happy, others are happier than before. I'd say it was the right thing to do," the diplomat said, adding that Lutsenko during the briefing "acknowledged that the media reaction came as a surprise and that side should have been handled better."

With reporting by AFP and Reuters