MOSCOW (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin brushed off a reported plot to kill him as part of his daily burden as Russia’s prime minister on Tuesday, burnishing his macho image five days before a presidential election he is likely to win.
State television on Monday carried news of a plot by Islamist rebels to kill Putin, provoking ridicule from his opponents who said it was a crude attempt to boost the former KGB spy’s popularity before Sunday’s election.
Putin, who travels with heavy security, showed his customary swagger as he dismissed concerns about his safety, saying he had lived with such threats since first becoming prime minister in 1999, when he crushed an uprising on Russia’s southern flank.
“If you are afraid all the time then you cannot live - let them fear us,” Putin told reporters in Astrakhan, a city on the banks of the Volga River about 1,300 km (800 miles) south of Moscow, Itar-Tass news agency reported.
“People in my position have to live with such things,” he was quoted as saying. “I have lived with this since 1999 and it has been going on constantly.”
State television said the plotters, seized after one of them blew himself up in a flat in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odessa, had planned to plant a bomb in central Moscow to kill the 59-year-old prime minister on his way to work.
It aired video files from a seized computer that showed Putin’s heavily armed cortege of cars speeding through Moscow, complete with police outriders and dozens of cars full of heavily armed bodyguards.
Russian media linked the plotters to a group known as the Caucasus Emirate, led by Chechen warlord Doku Umarov, which has carried out attacks including a suicide bombing at Russia’s busiest airport last year which killed 37 people.
But the Russian opposition, which has in recent months staged the biggest political protests since Putin came to power, reacted with skepticism, suggesting that the timing of the announcement was intended to attract sympathy for Putin before Sunday’s election.
Putin, who has forged a tough-guy image with stunts such as tranquilizing a tiger and riding a horse barechested, is likely to win 58-66 percent of the vote on Sunday, according to two of the last major opinion polls.
Putin was president from 2000 until 2008 when he helped usher his ally, Dmitry Medvedev, into the Kremlin and became premier because the constitution sets a limit of two successive presidential terms. He has remained Russia’s dominant leader.
Reporting By Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kevin Liffey