By Dmitry Zaks / AFP
MOSCOW: Russia on Monday said its secret services had thwarted a plot hatched in a Ukrainian port city by men with links to Chechnya to assassinate Vladimir Putin after next weekend’s presidential election.
Less than a week before polls in which Putin is widely expected to reclaim the Kremlin, state-controlled Channel One television showed two suspected plotters who it said were detained in the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa.
The existence of the plot was confirmed by Putin’s spokesman as well as the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and its Russian counterpart the Federal Security Service (FSB). However some analysts raised suspicion over the timing.
Channel One showed confessions from two men who said they were acting on the orders of the feared Chechen Islamist militant Doku Umarov — the man who claimed deadly airport and metro bombings in Moscow in the last two years.
The two said they had prepared the attack in Odessa and planned to execute it in Moscow after an election in which Prime Minister Putin is widely expected to regain the presidency he held in 2000-2008.
Channel One said three plotters came to Ukraine from the United Arab Emirates via Turkey with “clear instructions from representatives of Doku Umarov.”
An unnamed Russian security official was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies that one of the men died in a blast in early January that prompted the investigation.
“They told us that first you come to Odessa and learn how to make bombs,” Channel One showed a man identified as Ilya Pyanzin as saying.
“And then later, in Moscow, you will stage attacks against commercial objects, with the subsequent assassination attempt against Putin,” the man said.
The state television footage showed a video of Putin getting into his car being played on the laptop computer belonging to the second suspect who was identified as Adam Osmayev — a man the report said had lived for a long time in London.
The hidden-camera footage of Putin’s movements was shot “so that we had an understanding of how he was protected,” Osmayev said.
“The end goal was to come to Moscow and to try to stage an assassination attempt against premier Putin,” he said. “The deadline was after the election of the Russian president.”
The report said one of the two detained men had told Russian and Ukrainian investigators that some explosives had already been hidden near the Kutuzovsky Prospekt avenue that Putin passes daily to reach the government White House.
It quoted an unidentified Russian FSB official as saying that the explosives would have created a “serious blast… powerful enough to tear apart a truck”.
Putin’s spokesman confirmed that the two men detained were involved in an alleged plot to assassinate the Russian strongman. “I confirm this information but am not commenting now,” ITAR-TASS quoted Dmitry Peskov as saying.
Putin’s career is linked closely to the brutal but ultimately popular second campaign in Chechnya that he launched while still serving as Boris Yeltsin’s prime minister in 1999.
The region remains wracked by violence to this day and Umarov is still at large despite repeated attempts by Russian forces to kill him.
But some analysts cast suspicion on the timing of the announcement, saying it appeared at least in part to be aimed at deflecting attention from the recent regular street protests against Putin’s rule.
“It just seems like an incredible coincidence that these monsters were discovered today,” said independent military analyst Alexander Golts.
“From now on, anyone who is against the prospects of Putin’s election as president will be put on the same playing field as the terrorists.”
The alleged assassination attempt against Putin is at least the sixth reported by the Russian media since he first became president 12 years ago.
The last was reportedly planned for his June 2007 visit to Istanbul for a regional summit.