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Plot to kill PM Vladimir Putin foiled, pro-government TV channel reports

Russia's security services say they averted a plot by Chechen separatists to assassinate Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The alleged conspiracy comes just a week before presidential elections and has brought criticism from Putin's opponents who suggest the timing of the announcement is suspicious. ITN's Lindsey Hilsum reports.

Updated at 9:25 a.m. ET: MOSCOW -- 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.

Pro-government Channel One said that the suspects were plotting to kill Putin in Moscow immediately after the March 4 presidential election, in which he is all but certain to reclaim the presidency.


The report, which included televised confessions by two suspects, is likely to boost support for Putin as he seeks his third term as president in an election Sunday.

Channel One said the suspects were acting on instructions from Chechen warlord Doku Umarov and had been 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.

Amanda Walker, Moscow correspondent for Britain's Sky News, pointed out that Channel One was a "staunch Putin supporter."

 

The Ukrainian Security Service said earlier this month it had detained a man sought by Russian authorities on charges of terrorism and two of his accomplices in Odessa on Feb. 4, but said nothing at the time about them being linked to an anti-Putin plot.

Its spokeswoman, Marina Ostapenko, said Monday the announcement in Moscow came only now because the Russian special service was conducting its own investigation. She confirmed the main suspect was involved in a plot to kill Putin, but didn't elaborate.

There was no immediate explanation for the different number of suspects cited by Russia and Ukraine.

CHANNEL ONE/AFP/Getty Images

An undated photograph taken from a Russian television report shows Ilya Pyanzin, who reportedly was conspiring to kill Vladimir Putin.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the report to the ITAR-Tass news agency, but refused to make any further comment.

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Channel One said two of the alleged members of the group arrived in Ukraine from the United Arab Emirates via Turkey with instructions from Umarov, the top military leader for the Chechen rebels. One of them, a Chechen, was killed during the accidental explosion in Odessa and another one, Kazakhstan citizen Ilya Pyanzin, was wounded in the blast and arrested.

Pyanzin led the investigators to their contact in Odessa, Adam Osmayev, a Chechen who previously had lived in London and had been sought by Russia since 2007, the report said. The TV station showed footage of Osmayev's arrest in Odessa with black-clad special troops bursting in and a half-naked, bloodied Osmayev on his knees, his head bowed down.

Speaking to Channel One from custody in Ukraine, Osmayev described the group's mission: "Our goal was to go to Moscow and try to kill Prime Minister Putin ... Our deadline was after the Russian presidential election."

Both of Osmayev's hands were bandaged, and his face was covered in green dots from an antiseptic used to treat his cuts.

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Russian and Ukrainian special services wouldn't comment on the report.

The report is likely to boost support for Putin as he seeks his third term as president in an election Sunday.

But some Russians reacted to the news with skepticism, making clear on social network sites that they did not believe the report or suggesting the timing of the announcement was intended to attract sympathy for Putin before the election.

Opinion polls show Putin, a former KGB officer who crushed separatists during a war he launched in the Chechnya region in the North Caucasus before he became president, will easily win the election and reclaim the post he held from 2000 until 2008.

But he faces a growing opposition protest movement and wants to secure outright victory on Sunday, averting a runoff that might dent his authority.

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The Associated Press, Reuters and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.