Leading article: All too convenient for Mr Putin

 

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Now it may be true, and it ill behoves anyone in a country that has experienced acts of terrorism in recent memory to cast aspersions on claims made by the authorities in another, similarly afflicted, country. But yesterday's revelation from Russian state television about a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, cannot but raise suspicions that something else, or something additional, may be in play.

According to Russian officials, the Ukrainian security services arrested two people in Odessa after an explosion at a flat in January. The two were shown admitting their involvement. The Russians say they were party to a plot to assassinate Mr Putin after the presidential elections. But the timing – of the alleged plot and of the revelations – cannot but raise suspicions. It is all too convenient.

Mr Putin goes into the last week of the election campaign with a sizeable lead in the opinion polls. But he also faces unprecedented opposition from a new generation of voters who believe that he has had his day. A new middle class found its voice after Mr Putin made known his intention to seek a third term in the Kremlin after four years as Prime Minister, and its votes helped to slash the governing party's majority in parliamentary elections in December.

While it looks as though nothing will upset Mr Putin's return to the presidency – the lack of plausible rivals has made for a one-sided campaign – "anyone-but-Putin" calls have gained a following in the country's flourishing social media, and tens of thousands have turned out for anti-Putin protests. This past weekend, they managed to complete a human chain around Moscow's inner ring-road, drawing supportive hoots from passing motorists.

As next Sunday's election approaches, the mood across Russia is very different from the acquiescence that prevailed before the last two presidential votes. With officials pledging a clean election, and – more usefully – the internet facilitating the recruitment of volunteer observers, these elections will be that bit more difficult to rig. If the authorities feel that Mr Putin needs to be elected in the first round, it is not inconceivable that they would accept a little help.

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