A prominent Ukrainian media person has stirred public anger by interviewing controversial Russian figures who are also fugitives from Ukrainian law. His explanation? It was actually a sting operation.

It wouldn’t be unprecedented for a popular reporter or editor to moonlight as an intelligence officer. But a story of what seems to be treason that turns out to be a major win in the game of spies (at least according to the protagonist) would certainly stand out.

At the center of the scandal is Dmitry Gordon, an influential Ukrainian journalist and video blogger. His program recently featured figures that are rather controversial in his country, to put it mildly.

First, he sat down with Russian MP Natalia Poklonskaya, who is perceived by many Ukrainian nationalists as a traitor. In 2014, she was a prosecutor in then-Ukrainian Crimea. As the region revolted against the political forces that came to power in Kiev after an armed coup, she became one of the public faces of Crimea’s re-unification with Russia.

Her appearance and badass attitude won her an international following and the nickname ‘prosecutie’, but it’s safe to say that whatever fans she may have in Ukraine today don’t advertise their fondness, for obvious reasons.

Gordon was already in hot water after that episode was released on his YouTube channel on Monday last week. But the guest he had this Monday sent the frenzy through the roof. People online threatened to kill the journalist for legitimizing “enemies of Ukraine” while minor street protests erupted in front of his office.

“Гордон – г*ндон, геть в Лугандон”: як активісти під офісом інтернет-видання “Гордон” протестували

And it’s not hard to see why. For over three hours, Gordon spoke to Igor Girkin, also known by his nom de guerre Igor Strelkov. He was a prominent military commander of the self-defense forces in Eastern Ukraine in 2014, during the peak of the civil war. Dutch prosecutors named him as one of the suspects in the downing of flight MH17, which happened while Girkin was in command.

So why did a respected journalist, a long-time fixture of the Ukrainian establishment, commit such spectacular professional suicide? Was it for ratings? The answer came hours after the episode with Girkin was released. Gordon called his guest “a terrorist” and said it was all part of a sting operation.

“I did the interviews… in cooperation with Ukrainian security services,” he said in a video address. “Nobody ever in Ukraine took statements from either Natalia Poklonskaya or Igor Girkin about the treason and crimes that had been committed with the help of those individuals.”

Gordon said that flash-drives with the interviews “are now in the Hague” and will serve as “key evidence” in criminal prosecutions. He didn’t bother to explain what exactly his guests told him that was not already on the public record – both have given dozens of interviews to other journalist over the years. But he did threaten to send the cops after protesters vandalizing his office building.

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s powerful SBU security service said that interviewing Poklonskaya and Girkin was done on Gordon’s own initiative and that they would investigate the situation to determine if legal action is necessary.

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