Montenegro prosecutor links Russian state to coup plot
PODGORICA, MontenegroA Montenegrin prosecutor said on Feb. 19 that some “Russian state bodies” were involved in a coup attempt during October’s election last year, with the aim of stopping the Balkan country from joining NATO.
Montenegrin police arrested a group of Serbian nationals on the eve of the Oct. 16, 2016 vote and two Russian suspects are wanted over the alleged plot to seize parliament and assassinate former premier Milo Djukanovic.
Montenegrin authorities earlier said the conspiracy was orchestrated by “Russian nationalists,” but special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic went a step further on the evening of Feb. 19, suggesting that Russian authorities were involved.
“So far we have had evidence that Russian nationalist structures were behind [the plot], but now also that Russian state bodies were involved at a certain level,” Katnic told local media, according to AFP.
“The organs of the Russian state must investigate which bodies are involved and open a criminal trial over these acts.”
Katnic’s comments came on the same day Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that senior British officials also believed Russian authorities were behind the alleged coup attempt.
Katnic said “the intelligence services of friendly countries in Europe, including the United States and Great Britain,” were aiding the investigation in the small Adriatic country, which is on the verge of joining NATO.
According to the prosecutor, key witness Aleksandar Sindjelic, a nationalist Serb, was invited to Moscow by Eduard Sismakov, a member of “Russian military structures,” to be cleared for the mission.
Sismakov - using the alias Shirakov - “asked him to work first to prevent Montenegro from entering NATO. That is the sole motivation of these structures,” Katnic said.
Montenegrin prosecutors suspect 25 people, mostly Serbs, of links to the alleged coup, and have launched a manhunt for two Russians, including Sismakov, who is believed to be the main organizer.
Three Serbian nationals were jailed for five months each last week after admitting to “creating a criminal organization” to launch the power grab.
The suspects include two leading pro-Russian lawmakers from the opposition Democratic Front (DF), Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, whose parliamentary immunity was lifted last week so that they could face charges and be arrested.
But in a surprise decision immediately after the parliamentary vote, Montenegro’s top prosecutor issued a binding order that they remain at liberty.
The DF is strongly opposing Montenegro’s bid to join NATO but denies any involvement in a coup plot, claiming the affair was fabricated by the government.
The weapons for what Montenegro officials called a “terrorist attack plan” have never been presented, but Katnic insisted they had been destroyed in Kosovo.