Posted: 20 February 2017
source: Agence France-Presse via Guardian
A Montenegrin prosecutor has said that “Russian state bodies” were involved in a coup attempt during October’s election, with the aim of stopping the Balkan country from joining Nato.
Montenegrin police arrested a group of Serbian nationals on the eve of the 16 October vote and two Russian suspects are wanted over the alleged plot to seize parliament and assassinate former president and prime minister Milo Đukanović.
Montenegrin authorities had previously said the conspiracy was orchestrated by “Russian nationalists” but special prosecutor Milivoje Katnić went a step further on Sunday evening, 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,” Katnić told local media. “The organs of the Russian state must investigate which bodies are involved and open a criminal trial over these acts.”
Katnić 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.
But the allegations met with a firm denial from Moscow, where Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said they were unsubstantiated, the RIA news agency reported on Monday.
According to the prosecutor a key witness, Aleksandar Sinđelić, 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,” Katnić 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 organiser.
Three Serbian nationals were jailed for five months each last week after admitting to “creating a criminal organisation” to launch the coup.
The suspects include two leading pro-Russian lawmakers from the opposition Democratic Front (DF), Andrija Mandić and Milan Knežević, whose parliamentary immunity was lifted last week so that they could face charges and be arrested. 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 Katnić insisted they had been destroyed in Kosovo.