Was There Really a Plot to Assassinate Putin?
The BBC is reporting that Ukranian security officials have detained two men connected to a thwarted plot to assassinate unpopular Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The men apparently confessed on Russian state television:
In the footage, both admit plotting to attack Mr Putin. One, identified by Ria Novosti as Ilya Pyanzin, said he had been hired by Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov to carry out the killing and also by Ruslan Madayev, the suspect who died in the Odessa explosion.
The other suspect was named by Channel One as Adam Osmayev, said to have been on an international wanted list since 2007.
The plotters were planning to plant mines on Kutuzovsky Avenue in Moscow, used by Mr Putin on a daily basis, the report said.
Details of the plot were allegedly discovered on the suspects' laptops, including photographs of Putin's motorcade. And yet the Ukranian security service will not confirm or deny whether the detained were actually planning to target Putin; when a spokeswoman was questioned about it, she responded, "I don't really know what to say." This has some Russian analysts skeptical, as with Daniel Sandford,the BBC's Moscow correspondent:
Vladimir Putin's Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told me it was "absolutely" a plot to kill the prime minister. But the Ukrainian security service, which is holding the suspects, will not confirm that.
Spokeswoman Maryna Ostapenko told the BBC that they did arrest some people in January after an apartment explosion.
But when we asked her if it was part of a plot to assassinate Mr Putin, she said: "I don't know what to say."
Hardly a ringing endorsement of the assassination story.
Imagine a situation where, for example, Britain was holding someone for attempting to kill the French prime minister. It is inconceivable that weeks later the British police would not confirm that.
It has seriously undermined the original Channel One report, and Vladimir Putin's press secretary.
At a moment when hundreds of thousands of Russians are protesting Putin's leadership just one week before the elections, and when opponents like Mikhail Prokhorov are making the democratization of state-regulated television part of their campaign platform, it's a dicey proposition to make such vast claims; Putin's office could be accused as using the story as an attempt to curry favor among supporters, who are expected to re-elect him. Other analysts have accused those outside the Putin campaign as spreading the "obviously fake" story. Maxim Agarkov: "
"news of the assassination attempt was “unlikely to be from Putin’s election campaign” since his team was smart enough not to spread this “obviously fake” news in media.
“It looks like it is the Security Services that are attempting to show how well they are performing their duties… ahead of the mass reshuffles that will definitely be carried out after the presidential elections,” Agarkov said, adding that the detained militants, who are said to be hired by Chechen warlord Doku Umarov, was a group of amateurs who may have merely contacted Umarov about possible support.
Whatever transpires, it's another fascinating chapter in the most tumultuous Russian election since the Soviets ruled. Go here for more Russian analysts poo-pooing the assassination plot story.