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French press review 31 May 2018

A murdered Russian journalist comes back to life. Is this a miracle or a disgrace? Are the United States and Europe on the verge of a trade war?


The Russian journalist Arkadi Babtchenko is alive and well, and chuckling on the front pages of several French dailies.

Yesterday Babtchenko was dead, viciously gunned down in the street outside his Kiev apartment. And then, just 24 hours after being shot in the back, Arkadi was smiling at a police press conference, explaining that the whole show had been put on by the Ukranian security services as part of a scam intended to trick those who, he and the Ukrainian secret police said, really were planning to murder him.

It appears to have worked. The police have since arrested two individuals, one described as the would-be hit-man, who was to kill Babtchenko for a fee of 35,000 euros, the other the planner, a Ukrainian citizen allegedly working for the Russian secret services. News of their potential victim's death somehow (the police haven't explained exactly how the game played out) forced the real murderers into the open and they were nabbed.

As the headline in Libération puts it, with a nod to James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming, Arkadi Babtchenko will get to die another day.

And without wishing the man the slightest ill, that could be sooner rather than later. Babtchenko, you will understand, is a harsh critic of Kremlin policy in Ukraine. And when you're on the Kremlin's to-do list, you don't generally have to worry about life in a retirement home.

Mark Twain would probably have approved

The Ukranian secret police have been patting themselves on the back. But not everyone is quite so pleased.

Mrs Babtchenko for starters. Yesterday the resurrected Arkady had to apologise to the missus for "putting her through two days of hell". It's not clear how much she knew about the scam but the tone of that apology suggests that Arkady and the family dog might be sharing food and lodgings for the foreseeable future.

And then there's the question of police credibility. Will people believe the next report of violent death in Kiev or will they await the resurrection?

The international press has not been slow to denounce a variation on the theme of fake news.

Our colleagues at the BBC quote the Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov as saying that "a line has been crossed", that reporters have a duty of integrity and that their work depends on the confidence of their readers. Soldatov says Babtchenko should not have played the police game. But then, it wasn't Soldatov who risked being wiped out.

The Guardian says the whole business is absurd but not funny, with the London paper going on to wonder if the silly scenario played out in Kiev may not, finally, turn out to have done more harm than good.

Reporters Without Borders have condemned the set-up as pathetic and unprecedented, regretting that the Ukrainian police saw fit to take such liberties with the truth, even for a worthy motive.

Fake news is one thing, say the Belgian paper Le Soir. But the Russians kill people for real. This case has helped to blur a complicated situation even further.

Two tribes go to war

There's war on the front page of Le Figaro. Trade war. And this because US President Donald Trump is today expected to announce that European Union steel and aluminium will, from tomorrow, face a US import surcharge of 25 percent.

The right-wing daily says French President Emmanuel Macron has warned that the American decision will create a real danger of an unprecedented sequence of reprisals on both sides of the Atlantic. It is time, says Macron, to overhaul the rules governing the World Trade Organisation, Le Figaro reports..

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