MOSCOW – Russia said on Monday its secret services had thwarted a plot hatched in a Ukrainian port city by suspected militants from Chechnya to assassinate Vladimir Putin after next weekend’s presidential vote.
State television showed the two men confessing to conspiring to kill the Russian strongman in a bombing attack that was revealed to the public less than a week before Putin’s likely victory in Sunday’s election.
The plot’s existence was confirmed by Putin’s spokesman as well as the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and its Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) counterpart. But some analysts raised suspicion over the timing of the news.
The purported confessions showed the two men saying they acted on the orders of Chechen Islamist militant Doku Umarov, the warlord who has claimed deadly airport and metro bombings in Moscow over the past two years.
Officials said the pair along with a third man who died while trying to prepare a bomb were all ethnic Chechens who were detained in Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa in January and early February.
It was not clear why the authorities had waited until just days were left before the March 4 poll to make their announcement.
“It just seems like an incredible coincidence that these monsters were discovered today,” independent military analyst Alexander Golts told AFP.
Channel One said the three plotters went to Ukraine from the United Arab Emirates via Turkey with “clear instructions from representatives of Doku Umarov”.
“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 second suspect Adam Osmayev – a man the report said had lived for a long time in London.
The hidden-camera footage of the Russian prime minister’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.
An FSB official told the RIA Novosti news agency that the suspected plotters were all Chechens who belonged to one of Umarov’s armed groups.
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.
The news came just days after Putin told a campaign rally that the “battle for Russia continues” and some analysts saw said the plot could do no harm to his election chances.
“This is a new cause for mobilization around Putin and it has been put forwards as another argument in his favour,” said Alexander Konovalov of the Institute for Strategic Assessments.
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.