MOSCOW – Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declared Tuesday he doesn't fear assassination attempts, a day after state television reported that security forces had foiled a plot to kill him.
Russia's Channel One reported Monday that plotters linked to a Chechen rebel warlord were planning to assassinate Putin with powerful explosives after Sunday's presidential election. Some of Putin's rivals in the vote dismissed the report as a campaign trick intended to boost support for Putin's bid to regain the presidency.
Putin said Tuesday in his first comment on the plot that he had been informed about it but wasn't intimidated.
"People in my position have to live with it," he said on a trip to the southern city of Astrakhan. "It would be impossible to carry on if you fear that. Let them fear us."
Putin was quoted by the Russian newswires as saying that he made no changes to his schedule despite the threat. "Such things shouldn't be an obstacle, and they will not be," Putin said.
Putin, who was Russia's president from 2000 to 2008 and has been prime minister since then, is running for a third, now six-year presidential term. He is expected to win easily against four Kremlin-approved challengers, but a wave of protests since December's tainted parliamentary election has undermined his image as a strong, popular leader.
Channel One's report, which included televised confessions, said the suspects, acting on instructions from Chechen warlord Doku Umarov, were preparing to kill Putin in Moscow immediately after the vote. It said the suspects were arrested in Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odessa earlier this month following an accidental explosion in January while they were trying to manufacture explosives at a rented apartment.
Putin has postured as a strong protector of Russia's national interests and has counted the victory over Chechen separatist rebels as one of the key achievements of his rule. The reported plot casting Putin as a terrorist target could draw public sympathy and help secure his victory by a wider margin.
Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist leader running a distant second to Putin in the polls, called the report "a cheap trick that reeks."
The nationalist party leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, said the assassination plot was invented by political spin doctors and designed to appeal to "poorly educated old ladies."
Asked about the claims that the reported plot was linked to the vote, Putin responded by saying that it's not the first time he's being targeted. His spokesman rejected the statements linking the two things as "blasphemous."