Russian media are abuzz with reports that secret services have foiled a plan to murder Vladimir Putin
. The timing, however, is raising eyebrows.
News of the plot, reported on February 27 by Russia's Channel 1 state television, comes just six days before a presidential election that's expected to sweep Putin back into the Kremlin after a four-year stint as prime minister.
Many Russians have reacted with suspicion, suggesting on social media that the thwarted plot was fabricated and timed to attract sympathy for Putin before the election.
"A good PR move for the country's main thief. Now all the grandmothers will react, they love victims," writes one poster on the Russian blogging platform LiveJournal.
"Strange that the attack wasn't plotted in London, jointly by [North Caucasus insurgent commander Doku] Umarov, the resuscitated [Al-Qaeda head Osama] bin Laden, and Martians," quips another. "The ratings must be really low."
Analysts say the revelations of the alleged plot could be aimed at deflecting attention from the growing street protests against Putin in recent weeks.
Fuelling suspicion about the timing is the fact that authorities say the two suspects shown on Russian television were arrested weeks ago.
"Although nothing can be ruled out nowadays, it's perfectly clear that this thwarted plot comes at a crucial time in Putin's election campaign," says defense analyst Aleksandr Golts.
"Before this news was announced, many analysts said his campaign must receive new impetus in order to show how important Putin is for the country and how much Russia's enemies hate him."
The Channel 1 report said Ukrainian and Russian security services detained the first plotter in Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odesa after he was wounded in a January 4 explosion at an apartment in the city that also killed another alleged plotter.
Ukrainian Security Service's counterintelligence agency, confirming the report, said the second man was arrested on February 4 after initially escaping.
The men were reportedly working for a group seeking to establish an Islamic state in Russia's North Caucasus.
This is not the first reported attempt on Putin's life during an election period -- a similar assassination attempt was allegedly foiled on the day of Russia's last presidential poll in March 2008.
In fact, the Odesa plot is the latest in a string of alleged attempts to assassinate Putin since he became president 12 years ago.
Authorities blamed nearly all of them on Chechen separatists, which Russia has fought in two brutal wars following the Soviet collapse -- the second of which launched in 1999 by Putin, who was then serving as Boris Yeltsin's prime minister in 1999.
Putin's critics also accuse the Russian authorities of orchestrating a series of apartment-building bombings on the eve of the 2000 presidential election that propelled Putin to power.
The Kremlin accuses Chechen rebels of blowing up the buildings.
Written by Claire Bigg