By Guy Faulconbridge
LONDON (Reuters) -President Vladimir Putin on Monday accused the West of trying to destroy Russia, demanding prosecutors take a tough line with what he cast as plots hatched by foreign spies to divide the country and discredit its armed forces.
Speaking to Russia’s top prosecutors and watched by his defence minister, Putin accused the West of inciting Ukraine to plan attacks on Russian journalists – an allegation denied by Kyiv.
Putin said the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, the Federal Security Service (FSB), had on Monday prevented a murder attempt by a “terrorist group” on Russian TV journalist Vladimir Solovyev.
“They have moved to terror – to preparing the murder of our journalists,” Putin said of the West.
Putin, a former KGB spy who has ruled Russia as paramount leader since the last day of 1999, did not immediately provide evidence to support his statements and Reuters was unable to immediately verify the accusations.
FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov said a group of six neo-nationalist Russian citizens had plotted to kill Solovyev – one of Russia’s most high-profile TV and radio journalists – at the behest of Ukraine’s State Security Service (SBU).
The SBU denied the allegations, which it said were fantasies cooked up by Moscow. “The SBU has no plans to assassinate V. Solovyev,” it said in a statement.
Solovyev, a host of talk shows whose guests often denigrate Ukraine and justify Moscow’s actions there, thanked the FSB.
RUSSIA THE TARGET
Putin said the West had realised that Ukraine could not beat Russia in war so had moved to a different plan – the destruction of Russia itself.
“Another task has come to the fore: to split Russian society and destroy Russia from within,” Putin said. “It is not working.”
Putin said foreign media organisations and social media had been used by the West’s spies to confect provocations against Russia’s armed forces.
Prosecutors should react swiftly to fake news and reports that undermined order, Putin said, without giving any specific examples.
“They are often mainly organised from abroad, organised in different ways – either the information comes from there or the money,” Putin said. Prosecutors should fight extremism “more actively”, Putin said.
Just days after ordering the invasion of Ukraine, Putin signed a law that imposes a jail term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally “fake” news about the military.
Russia says the Western media have provided an excessively partial narrative of the war in Ukraine that largely ignores Moscow’s concerns about the enlargement of NATO and what it says is the persecution of Russian speakers in Ukraine.
Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine has killed thousands of people, displaced millions more and raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and the United States – by far the world’s two biggest nuclear powers.
Putin says the “special military operation” in Ukraine is necessary because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia and Ukraine was guilty of the genocide of Russian-speaking people.
Ukraine says it is fighting a land grab by Russia and that Putin’s accusations of genocide are nonsense.
(Reporting by Reuters; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alex Richardson)