Russian and Ukranian intelligence officials claim that two men arrested earlier this month were planning a series of terrorist attacks in Moscow, including one meant to target Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The two suspects were shown on Russian TV admitting that they were working with a wanted terrorist to carry out a bombing campaign before this weekend's presidential election.
According to the reports from the government owned Channel One, the two men were arrested after an explosion at an apartment in the Ukrainian city of Odessa killed a third accomplice and alerted police to their presence in the city. The men admitted under interrogation that they were sent to Odessa by Doku Umarov, the leader of a Chechen separatist group that is responsible for several terrorist attacks in Chechnya and Russia, including the bombing of Moscow subway stations in 2010. Officials also claim that a search of the apartment revealed more explosives, "combat mines," and detailed travel routes and security details for top Russian officials, including Putin. The men say there were given a deadline to attack Putin, possibly with a suicide bomb, before the Russian presidential elections on March 4. Putin, who spent six years as president before stepping down and becoming Prime Minister, is expected to easily be re-elected to his old job.
There is some skepticism of the report, given the source and the timing of the announcement. The arrests were made on February 4, but no mention of the suspects motives or plans were revealed until today, via pro-government media. It comes one day after Moscow saw one of its largest anti-government protests ever, as around 30,000 demonstrators locked arms in a 10-mile-long circle around the city while calling for an end to Putin's rule.
It's true that Russia has seen its share of terrorist activity and Umarov himself — who claims to be the president of the non-existent Caucasus Emirate — has taken responsibility for several incidents. (Although the cause of certain other attacks, most notably the Moscow apartment building bombings in 1999, have been called into question in the past.) Even if the plotters were planning to disrupt the election, the news will still be seen by some as an attempt to generate sympathy for Putin or unite Russians by bringing back their old enemy. As writer Peter Hitchens argues, despite the corruption and violence against dissenters, Putin's greatest source of appeal has always been his inclination to "stand up" for Russia and defend it against outside forces.
Oddly enough, earlier this month Dumarov declared that "peaceful" Russian civilians who don't support the government should be off limits to attacks from his fighters, though military personnel and the government officials would still be considered legitimate targets.