Critics said Ukraine’s actions would only help the Kremlin raise doubts now when it is accused of wrongdoing, as in the shooting down of a civilian airliner over Ukraine in 2014 that killed nearly 300 people, and the poisoning of a retired Russian spy and his daughter in Britain in March.
Reporters Without Borders condemned the Ukrainian Security Services, calling it “dangerous” for any government to manipulate facts.
Ukrainian officials defended their actions, saying the ruse had been necessary to try to stop Russian-financed attacks against targets in Ukraine. Mr. Gritsak said there was no doubt that “the assassination of the Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko was ordered by Russian intelligence.”
One Ukrainian Parliament member, writing on Facebook, found justification in literature. Even Sherlock Holmes, he said, faked his own death “to effectively investigate difficult and complicated crimes.”
Mr. Babchenko, 41, a former war correspondent, fled Russia last year after his criticism of the Kremlin for the wars in Ukraine and Syria prompted a nationalist campaign of intimidation against him. He roused particular fury with a Facebook post saying he “didn’t give a damn” about the deaths of 92 people, most of them Russian singers, dancers and musicians, who died in a plane crash en route to Syria to perform.
Given that history, Mr. Babchenko’s “killing” appeared to be just the latest in a series of attacks, many of them fatal, on outspoken foes of President Vladimir V. Putin, both inside Russia and beyond. Before Mr. Babchenko’s death was unveiled as staged, officials in Ukraine and Russia accused the other country of ordering the killing and then lying about it.
Ukrainian security officials did not fully explain how their ruse was supposed to work. One man, a Ukrainian, is already in custody, they said.