MOSCOW – Word had come down that a plot to kill Vladimir Putin had been foiled by Russian intelligence services just a week before presidential elections.
But it soon emerged that journalists from Russia's Kremlin-controlled Channel One, which first reported the story Monday, had come across the information several days before it was made public. That revelation has led many to doubt the claims, and suspect it was some kind of pre-election shenanigans ahead of the March 4 ballot where Putin is favored to return to the Kremlin.
A spokesperson for Channel One says those who see it as an electoral PR stunt are suffering from "mental illness."
The network had reported that Chechen Adam Osman and Kazakh citizen Ilya Pyanzin were detained in Odessa, Ukraine, in connection with the thwarted plot, with the arrested men themselves admitting to the possession of a cache of weapons in Moscow that included explosives and detonators.
But the online newspaper gazyeta.ru reported that journalists learned of the impending raid several days earlier. Political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin described news of the supposed threat to Putin's life ahead of next week's presidential elections as "very well-timed."
The leader of the opposition Yabloko party, Sergei Mitrokhin - who has been denied permission run for president - said it was "obvious that the Ukrainian stamp on the attempt was needed to strengthen the credibility of the fable because no one would have believed only the FSB (intelligence services)."
Leader of the movement In Defense of Khimki Forest quipped that the news of a plot on Putin's life was "a morning helping of Odessan humor from the FSB."
Channel One's press department said such reactions were "a clear sign that mental illness is spreading through the election campaign."
Escape to UK
Osman had been on the international Most Wanted list since 2007 after his arrest on charges of preparing with a group of Chechens an assassination attempt on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. After insufficient evidence was presented, Osman was freed on bail, after which he fled to the United Kingdom.
Last year, North Caucasus militant leader Doku Umarov proposed organizing a new attack. Osman came to Ukraine on forged documents and fellow Chechen native Ruslan Madaev arrived from the UAE, along with Ilya Pyanzin from Kazakhstan. They rented an apartment and started studying the production and use of explosives, according to Pyanzin.
During one training exercise at the start of January, a bomb went off in Madaev's hands, killing him and injuring Pyanzin. Osman was not in the apartment at that time, and would eventually go into hiding in Odessa.
Initially firefighters thought there had been a gas explosion in the apartment, but upon closer inspection, traces of explosives were found. Then, Pyanzin, who was recovering, testified to Ukraine's secret service (SBU) that they were planning an attack on Russia's prime minister soon after the presidential election, with Madaev acting as the bomber.
The SBU informed the FSB and Osmayev was arrested on Feb. 4, when his father arrived in Odessa from Russia, after mobile phone calls between the two had been intercepted. Whether his father was involved in the plot is now being ascertained.
It is hard to predict what will happen next. First of all, a case is likely to be filed in Ukraine with charges of trafficking in explosives and preparing an act of terrorism. But if charges are to be filed in Russia, it will have to go through the Ukrainian judicial process first.
Read the original article in Russian