Plot to Kill Putin Is Uncovered, Russian TV Reports

New York Times

MOSCOW — Russian television reported early on Monday that the Ukrainian and Russian intelligence services had in recent weeks acted jointly to thwart an assassination attempt on the Russian prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin.

The announcement came less than a week before the Russian presidential election on Sunday. Mr. Putin, the dominant figure in Russian politics, is seeking a return to the presidency, which he held for two terms before becoming prime minister in 2008 and which he is widely expected to win.

A report by the state-controlled broadcaster Channel One said that a band of would-be assassins were arrested in the Ukrainian city of Odessa. Authorities were alerted to the group by an explosion inside an apartment, and discovered that several of its inhabitants had been dispatched to the city by the Chechen terrorist leader Doku Umarov, Channel One reported. One man died in the blast, but two survived.

There was confusion about the date of the arrests in the case. Channel One said the suspects were arrested on Jan. 4, but a statement released by the Ukrainian security services this month, which made no mention of an assassination plot against Mr. Putin, said the arrests were made on Feb. 4.

One survivor, Ilya Pyanzin, told authorities that there was a plan to attack strategic sites in Moscow and then to stage an attack on Mr. Putin, according to the report.

Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said on Monday that an assassination attempt had been in the works, as did a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s security service. A spokesman for Russia’s Federal Security Service would not comment.

Critics questioned the timing of the revelations, just six days before the presidential election but apparently two months after authorities learned of the plot.

“This is a sign that the real leaders of Mr. Putin’s political structure, the people from the Federal Security Service, are trying to mobilize public opinion according to the logic that we are surrounded by enemies and that we have one decisive, effective and intelligent national leader that they want to destroy,” Dmitri Oreshkin, a political analyst, said on Echo Moskvy radio station.

“The timely disclosure of this conspiracy against this leader is a serious addition to the electoral rating of the potential president,” he said.

Channel One released what it said were preliminary details about the plot, including filmed depositions from two of the suspects.

“The final goal was to go to Moscow and attempt to carry out an attack on Prime Minister Putin,” Adam Osmayev, identified as one of the two surviving suspects, said in a police interview on Channel One. “There are combat mines, which are called armor-piercing mines. So it wouldn’t necessarily be a suicide bomber. The man who died, for instance, was ready to be a suicide bomber.”

Mr. Osmayev, who was reported to have lived in London for years, said that the group had studied the routes taken by Mr. Putin’s drivers in Moscow, and that it was actively preparing to stage an attack before Sunday’s elections. He called Election Day “the deadline” for the operation.

Channel One reported that Mr. Osmayev had revealed details of the plan and another plot that was foiled by Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, in 2007, in hopes of receiving leniency from prosecutors.

An official of the agency, who spoke to Channel One on condition of anonymity, said that investigators searching computer files found in the Odessa apartment had discovered video of several top officials’ routes through Moscow, among them Mr. Putin’s. The files noted the positioning of security guards, and the number of back-up vehicles. The official said detonators and plastic explosives had been brought to Moscow earlier.

“It would have been a decent explosion — enough to overturn a truck,” he said.

This month, Russia’s current president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, warned of possible terrorist threats coming from Russia’s volatile North Caucasus region before the election.

“The most important political event of the year is the election for president of the Russian Federation,” Mr. Medvedev said at a meeting with the heads of Russia’s domestic intelligence service. “It is obvious that there could be different reactions to this event, and it is not out of the question that in the period of the campaign the criminal underground in the North Caucasus could become active.”

Also this month, Mr. Umarov, who has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks including on subway stations and an airport in Moscow, called on his followers to refrain from attacks on civilians in light of a recent protest movement against Mr. Putin.

“The recent events show that the people of Russia do not support Putin,” Mr. Umarov said in a video on the Internet. “Thus, I order all groups carrying out special operations on the territory of Russia not to subject peaceful citizens to suffering.”

Channel One said it would release more details about the assassination plot later on Monday.

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