No one doubts that Chechen extremists (freedom fighters?) have had Vladimir Putin in their sights for years. Yet with just a week to go before Russia’s presidential election, riveting news that a ring of assassins has been arrested in the midst of actively preparing an attempt on Putin’s life has raised nationalism in Russia and engendered sympathy for the embattled president. The timing couldn’t be better for Putin (though, of course, any time is a good time to have assassins captured, if you’re the target). Sounds suspiciously like a “Doctors’ Plot” moment, for those who don’t believe in such providential timing. Back in 1953, as Josef Stalin was preparing the ground for another purge, a convenient plot to kill the tyrant involving a group of Jewish doctors was discovered. This was to be the signal for unleashing that peculiar type of Russian hell on innocent people. Fortunately for the Soviet Union and the world, Stalin died of a stroke on March 5, 1953, before he could fully indulge his blood lust yet again.
Putin is no Stalin, obviously, but as a way to rally fading support, show his fearlessness, and possibly lay the ground for future tightening of security, the Extremists’ Plot may be more than a footnote in Russian history. And this time, I don’t think Putin is going anywhere. As they say, history doesn’t repeat, but sometimes it rhymes.