Putin murder plot revealed as election nears

A still from Russian TV shows police storming the would-be assassins’ hideout.

Ukrainian police have foiled an apparent plot to assassinate Russian leader Vladimir Putin after upcoming presidential elections. Opposition activists suspect a set up.

Yesterday morning Russia awoke to dramatic news: Islamic fundamentalists from the troubled North Caucasus region had been caught plotting to assassinate Prime Minister Vladimir Putin immediately after his anticipated victory in the upcoming presidential elections.

The plan, extracted from the suspects after weeks of interrogation, was to use a huge bomb to attack Putin’s heavily guarded official motorcade, as he travelled through Moscow.

Instead, the assassination attempt ended in farce when an improvised explosive blew up inside the flat where the would-be murderers were hiding. One man was killed instantly; one was arrested; the last, wanted fugitive Adam Osmayev, was finally tracked down one month later.

In newly released footage, Osmayev and his surviving co-conspirator confess that they were hired specially for the job. Their paymaster? A notorious Chechen militant called Doku Umarov.

The involvement of Chechen separatists will not have surprised Russian viewers. Chechnya, a majority-Muslim region in the south of the country has twice tried to free itself from Russian rule – and suffered brutal repression as a result.

Since then, Chechens have perpetrated several deadly terrorist attacks on Russian soil, most famously at Beslan School in 2004, when nearly three hundred men, women and children were killed.

And, back in 1999, a series of Chechen bomb attacks on Moscow apartment buildings helped bring Vladimir Putin to power. Russians felt the need for strong, ruthless leadership – something that Putin, as an ex-member of Russia’s KGB and FSB spy agencies, was well equipped to provide.

In fact, critics of Putin’s regime have long whispered that perhaps there was more to these terror attacks than met the eye. Odd inconsistencies in official stories give ample material for conspiracy theorists to latch onto – and the atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia is not helped by the fact that journalists who question the government version of events have a disturbing tendency to meet violent ends or to disappear.

‘Tough guy’

The idea of a state carrying out staged terrorist strikes on its own citizens is too far fetched for most commentators. There are many, however, who point out how convenient the timing of this latest announcement is for Putin. Less than a week before the elections, at a moment of political transition and unrest, this bomb plot could unite Russians in patriotic loyalty to their ‘tough guy’ Prime Minister.

Perhaps the timing of the announcement is a little odd, Putin’s supporters admit, but the fundamental picture, they say, is a true one: Russia is a country with many enemies. Putin provides much-needed leadership through troubled times.

You Decide

  1. Does Russia really need strong leadership?
  2. Why would news of an assassination plot help Putin win an election?

Activities

  1. Design a presidential election poster either in favour of or against Vladimir Putin.
  2. Putin has a carefully cultivated image as a strongman. Research and write a short biography of the Russian leader. What sort of man do you think he is?

Some People Say...

“Security is more important than freedom.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So this attack could actually help Putin stay in power?
Yes – and that will have implications far beyond Russia’s borders. Russia is still a major power, with thousands of nuclear weapons, a large well equipped army and a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. Putin is known for his willingness to make life difficult for Western countries.
How? This isn’t the Cold War!
Two main ways: first, Russia has used its control of gas supplies to Europe, and especially Germany, as a political weapon. Having gas pipes shut down in the middle of winter is no joke. Meanwhile, Russia has vetoed Western resolutions at the UN – as, for example, in the case of Syria recently.

Word Watch

Prime Minister
Vladimir Putin was Russia’s president from 2000 to 2008, but legal limits prevented him from running for a third four-year term. Instead, he became prime minister, and allowed his friend and supporter Dmitry Medvedev to rule in his place. He will now run for president again on March 4th this year.
Chechnya
Chechnya is one of several restless Muslim regions around the Caucasus mountains between Southern Russia and Georgia. Muslims in the region hoped for independence following the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, but remained under Russian control.
KGB
Famous for its appearances in spy novels and films about the Cold War, the much-feared KGB was the main spy agency of the Soviet Union from 1954 until 1991, responsible for sabotage, assassinations, misinformation, counterintelligence and espionage.

Subjects

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