KIEV : Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko on Thursday defended faking his own murder with the cooperation of the Ukrainian security services, after the shock operation was criticised by fellow reporters.

Kiev has come under fire after it admitted staging the killing in a bid to foil what it said was a real assassination plot by Moscow against the anti-Kremlin journalist.

Babchenko made a scarcely credible reappearance at a press conference in Kiev on Wednesday, more than 12 hours after the Ukrainian authorities reported he had been shot dead at his home in a contract-style killing.

“My goal was to stay alive and ensure the safety of my family. That is the first thing I am thinking about. Journalist standards are the last thing I am thinking about now,” the Russian said at a second press conference on Thursday. After initial expressions of relief that Babchenko was alive, many fellow journalists have sharply criticised the staging of his death for undermining the credibility of the profession. “Friends, I couldn’t care less. I don’t care whether you believe it next time... as when I’m dead it won’t matter to me anymore,” Babchenko replied. The Kremlin earlier Thursday said the story was “at the very least bizarre” and dismissed accusations that it had attempted to assassinate Babchenko. Babchenko’s staged killing fooled the world’s media and led to press freedom groups raising fears about the impact it could have on the work of journalists around the globe.

Some said the staged death could only lead to more accusations of “fake news”, at a time when the distinction between credible and non-credible sources is becoming ever more crucial.

“By spreading false evidence about his murder, Ukrainian authorities have seriously eroded the credibility of information,” the president of the International Federation of Journalists, Philippe Leruth, said in a statement.

Reporters Without Borders described the faked assassination as a “pathetic stunt”.

An editorial in Russian daily Vedomosti argued that the Babchenko operation “blurred the border between truth and fiction” and would lead to more distrust of the media.

A number of Kremlin critics have been killed in Ukraine in recent years, with one gunned down on a Kiev street in broad daylight and another whose car exploded.

Several Western commentators and reporters said it would also be difficult to trust official statements from the Ukrainian state again.

Babchenko, who told the press he had been preparing to stage his death with secret services for several weeks, dismissed the criticism.

“I wish all these moralisers could be in the same situation - let them show their adherence to the principles of their high morals and die proudly holding their heads high without misleading the media,” he wrote on Facebook.

Other commentators urged the media to focus on the fact that Babchenko is alive.

“The main thing is that the killing of a journalist was foiled, the organisers are caught and the journalist is alive,” said Russian political commentator Evgeny Roizman.

“Do not love an Arkady that is alive less than a dead one. In a hybrid war there are sometimes hybrid victims,” Russian journalist Boris Grozovsky wrote on Facebook.

Kiev sought to justify Babchenko’s “murder” that provoked an outpouring of grief and a diplomatic spat with its former masters in Moscow.

“Thanks to this operation we were able to foil a cynical plot and document how the Russian security service was planning for this crime,” security service head Vasyl Grytsak said when he reintroduced Babchenko, alive and well, to the world.

Grytsak said the authorities had arrested the alleged mastermind of a plot against Babchenko, saying a Ukrainian citizen named only as G. had offered to pay a hitman to carry out the killing after being recruited by Russian special forces and paid $40,000.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko later met Babchenko and wrote triumphantly on Facebook that “millions of people are celebrating” the journalist’s return to life.

At the press conference on Thursday Babchenko said he “hated” Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“This person is responsible for several wars, this person is responsible for thousands of deaths. I have buried acquaintances, I have buried colleagues, I have buried friends, I am tired of burying them,” said Babchenko, who fought in Russia’s two wars in Chechnya before becoming a war journalist.

Babchenko left Russia in February 2017 after receiving threats, living first in the Czech Republic, then in Israel, before moving to Kiev.

He has contributed to a number of media outlets including top opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta and is an avid blogger, accusing Russian authorities of killing Kremlin critics and unleashing wars in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere.