Putin assassination plot foiled, Russian spy service says, though timing of revelation questioned

Russia's security services say they've foiled a plot by Chechen separatists to assassinate Russian leader Vladimir Putin, according to Russian media reports on Monday. The alleged hit job revelation comes a week ahead of Russian presidential elections that Putin is expected to easily win.

Two suspects, reportedly acting under the leadership of Chechen warlord Doku Umar, "were arrested in Ukraine's Black Sea port city of Odessa after an accidental explosion Jan. 4 while they were trying to manufacture explosives at a rented apartment," the Associated Press reported Monday, citing Russian state television channel One. They were reportedly "preparing to kill Putin in Moscow immediately after Sunday's election."

Russia watchers in Washington said while the timing of the public revelations of the hit plot may be "managed" by the Kremlin, they did not believe it likely that the charges were entirely trumped up to benefit Putin's presidential elections prospects.

"It may be as simple as what takes place in every country in the world: By and large, governments try to manage the timing of information getting out to the public to their advantage," Matthew Rojansky, deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Yahoo News in an interview Monday. "The very benign interpretation is maybe they were waiting for the pieces to fall into place."

The alleged would-be assassins were originally arrested by Ukraine's security forces in the city of Odessa following an investigation into an explosion in an Odessa apartment last month. Russian security services then conducted their own investigation, reports said.

Ukraine's security services are unlikely to have ginned up the alleged assassination case in order to boost Putin's presidential aspirations, Rojansky said. "The idea that [Ukrainian President Viktor] Yanukovich would do an electoral favor for Putin...it's a stretch, I think," he said, adding that Yanukovich's relationship with the Russian leader has cooled over the past year over Putin's perceived overstepping into Ukrainian affairs.

Putin, a former KGB colonel, served as Russian president from 2000-2008. Barred by Russian law from serving a successive third term, he then moved over to be Russian prime minister from 2008-2012. His decision last fall to stand in Russia's presidential elections this March generated rare protests in Russia. And protests started again this past weekend in anticipation of the election. But almost all analysis suggests Putin will easily defeat the other candidates to win a six-year term as Russia's next president.

On Monday, Putin took to the pages of "Russia Today" to sketch out his foreign policy vision, in which he argued against military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities and against international intervention in Syria's domestic strife.

"Putin's position is surprisingly consistent," Rojansky said. It's based on his premise that "the world is a more stable place with Russia as a great power."

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