The Putin Plot

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by Joshua Foust on 2/27/2012 · 1 comment

Another election, another “assassination plot” against Vladimir Putin.

Security forces have uncovered a plot to assassinate Russia’s Vladimir Putin and have arrested suspects linked to a Chechen rebel leader known for other terror attacks, Russian state television reported Monday.

The gist of the plot is that an explosion at an apartment building in Odessa, Ukraine, led investigators to uncover a plot against Putin. Ignoring the fact that this would be one of the first times Doku Umarov has planned an attack against Russia from outside Russia (and really? Why would he go a thousand miles away to Odessa for this?), there are several reasons to be deeply skeptical of this plot.

For starters, as Mark Adomanis notes, the timing is weird.

Probably the single most suspicious thing is the fact that the suspects were actually arrested in Ukraine more than 3 weeks ago and their supposed targeting of Putin was only announced today. The delay by itself doesn’t prove anything, there are other possible explanations for it, but it is, at a minimum, extremely suspicious.

Extremely so. But it’s also worth keeping in mind that in 2008 there was also a dread assassination plot uncovered against Putin:

Russian secret services have foiled an attack on President Vladimir Putin close to Red Square, it has been claimed.

A man with a sniper rifle and Kalashnikov assault gun was found and detained in a rented apartment overlooking Moscow’s St Basil’s Cathedral, on March 2, the day of the Presidential election in Russia…

The revelation came after Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s FSB secret services, said last week that his officers had foiled “terrorist attacks” during the election campaign.

It was unclear why it had taken so long for the alleged assassination bid to be made public and why a tabloid newspaper was chosen as the outlet. The FSB have not confirmed or denied the report, but Interfax, the Russian news agency, quoted an unnamed secret service official who denied the report.

Not that waiting weeks after an arrest for something else to videotape confessions and try to tie it to depredations against the Dear Leader is a pattern or anything.

Now, I share Mark’s skepticism that using explosives, as this plot supposedly did, invalidates the theory that it was Chechens. While Chechen terrorists in Russia tend to either take hostages or send in suicide bombers, they are most certainly not above or beneath planting “ordinary” explosive bombs.

No matter the eventual reality of this plot — if we ever learn of it — it will become a campaign crutch for Putin and United Russia. Recall other Putin-friendly terror plots, like the 1999 apartment bombings, have helped him gain power while coincidentally resulting in the deaths of those who question them too loudly.

This is a tried-and-true method for autocrats, whether Russian or not: discover an anti-autocrat plot, proclaim victimhood, and tighten the screws before winning an election most people already know the outcome of. This could be an interesting story but so far I just don’t think it’s all that surprising.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

Alexander February 27, 2012 at 5:15 pm

I agree that the whole story is weird, and I do think that it might be used to boost Putin’s popularity ahead of the elections. However, I would disagree with your – and Adomanis’s – suggestion that the “timing” is weird. When security forces uncover an assassination plot, they do not typically rush to tell media about this. Instead, they try to find and detain all those who might be connected to the plot – and excessive media attention can be damaging in this period.

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