Russian and Ukrainian authorities yesterday said they had uncovered a terrorist plot to assassinate Vladimir Putin, an announcement that raised eyebrows owing to its disclosure only days before the presidential elections.
The planned assassination, by a band of Chechen terrorists, was due to occur around the time of Sunday's polls, according to a lengthy report aired on state-run Channel One. It claimed the attack was planned by a group of terrorists under the command of Doku Umarov, Russia's most wanted man, who has planned several attacks, including a suicide blast at a Moscow airport last year.
Channel One broadcast extraordinary footage from the arrest in the Ukrainian city of Odessa of the Chechen Adam Osmayev, inset, three weeks ago. A team of masked special operatives burst into a room and detained the suspect, who was shown with his hands cuffed, half naked and covered in blood. Later, with cuts to his face, he spoke to the camera: "Our goal was to go to Moscow and try to kill Prime Minister Putin. Our deadline was the Russian presidential election."
Russian television said that Osmayev had studied in the UK and met exiled Chechen terrorists in London, where he first began to hatch his plans. Investigators say the basic plan had been to mine the route of Mr Putin's convoy using special anti-tank mines that would destroy armoured cars. Channel One said Russian authorities had found an arms stash near Kutuzovsky Prospekt, the avenue along which Mr Putin travels to work each day.
There seemed to be some holes in this story, however, not least the logistical aspect. Mr Putin is one of the best-guarded people in the world, and when his convoy passes through Moscow, traffic is stopped and police line the road. It has many vehicles and travels at high speed.
In the Russian blogosphere there was widespread derision over the nature and timing of the plot. Some pointed out there there had been similar reports of a planned attack on Mr Putin ahead of presidential elections four years ago, when he moved over to become Prime Minister.
A Channel One spokesperson said anyone thinking the report was a PR trick was "psychologically unhealthy" while Russian officials said it was natural that terrorists would target the Prime Minister.