On Monday, Russia’s main television channel reported that authorities in Ukraine had foiled a Chechen-inspired plot to assassinate Putin just after the election, which he is expected to win easily.
Despite numerous details about the alleged plot and confessions shown on national television, disbelief reverberated throughout Moscow, even reaching the long-acquiescent halls of the national parliament, the State Duma. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a nationalist leader who has consistently voted with the government, called the plot a hoax. “A trick that stinks” was the way Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist leader and presidential candidate, described it. Even believers were uncomfortable about the timing.
“The event dates back to February 4 and news about it has emerged today, on the last week before voting,” said Sergei Mironov, a Duma deputy, presidential candidate and head of A Just Russia. “I have the feeling that all this is not a mere coincidence.”
Putin’s press secretary gave a furious response.
“Considering the gravity of the plot and also that the seriousness of the threat was confirmed during the preliminary investigation,” said Dmitry Peskov, “such statements are blasphemous, to say the least.”
He said everyone knows that Putin has many enemies eager to prevent him from carrying out his duties.
“May those who are making such statements never have so many and such enemies,” Peskov said.
Details of the plan
News of an assassination plot broke on Russia’s Channel One, which showed two men, held in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, who reportedly confessed to the plot against Putin in early February after undergoing weeks of questioning.
One of the men, a 31-year-old Chechen identified as Adam Osmayev, was shown kneeling on the floor, his face and hands bloodied. Later, he appeared with one hand covered in bandages, his face blotchy with a green antiseptic called zelyonka.
The broadcast report said he was part of a group ordered by Chechen warlord Doku Umarov to carry out the attack. One suspect — identified as Ilya Pyanzin, 28 and a citizen of Kazakhstan— said he had traveled to Ukraine from the United Arab Emirates by way of Turkey.
The men lived in an apartment in Odessa where an explosion on Jan. 4 triggered a police investigation. The probe into the blast yielded evidence of attempts to build a bomb. A third suspect was killed in the explosion, the report said.
“They told us we should go to Odessa to begin with, learn how to make bombs,” Pyanzin said on video footage. “There would be an attempt on Putin’s life.”