Montenegrin coup plot
A coup d'état plot in the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica, was planned and prepared for 16 October 2016, the day of the parliamentary election, according to Montenegro's special prosecutor. In September 2017, the trial of those indicted in connection with the plot began in the High Court in Podgorica, the indictees including leaders of the Montenegrin opposition and two Russian nationals, Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov. The Russian government denies any involvement.
It is believed that the plot was designed as a last-ditch attempt by the Montenegrin pro-Russian opposition to prevent Montenegro′s accession to NATO, a move stridently opposed by Russia′s government that had issued direct threats to Montenegro concerning such eventuality. Speaking in the UK′s House of Commons Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on 6 March 2018 stated: "The UK has been instrumental in supporting Montenegro’s accession to NATO and in helping that country to identify the perpetrators of the Russian-backed attempted coup."
Arrests and alleged plot
|16 October 2016 arrests|
|Planned by||Ministry of Interior Affairs|
|Objective||Capture alleged coup conspirators|
|Date||16 October 2016|
|Executed by||Law enforcement|
On the eve of 16 October 2016, the day of the parliamentary election in Montenegro, a group of 20 Serbian and Montenegrin citizens, including the former head of Serbian Gendarmery Bratislav Dikić, were arrested; some of them, along with other persons, including two Russian citizens, were later formally charged by the authorities of Montenegro with an attempted coup d'état. In early November 2016, Montenegro′s special prosecutor for organised crime and corruption, Milivoje Katnić, alleged that "a powerful organisation" that comprised about 500 people from Russia, Serbia and Montenegro was behind the coup plot. In February 2017, Montenegrin officials accused the Russian ″state structures″ of being behind the attempted coup, which allegedly envisaged an attack on the country's parliament and assassination of prime minister Milo Đukanović.
The details about the coup plot were first made public at the end of October 2016 by Serbia′s prime minister Aleksandar Vučić, whose public statement on the matter stressed the role of Serbia′s law enforcers, especially the Serbian Security Intelligence Agency, in thwarting it. The statement was immediately followed by an unscheduled visit to Belgrade by Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia′s Security Council.
According to the prime minister Duško Marković′s statements made in February 2017, the government received definitive information about the coup being prepared on 12 October 2016, when a person involved in the plot gave away the fallback scenario of his Russian minders; this information was also corroborated by the security services of NATO member countries, who helped the Montenegrin government to investigate the plot. One of the charged, Predrag Bogićević from Kragujevac, a veteran and leader of the Ravna Gora Movement, said that Saša Sinđelić informed him on a possible attack on Serbs who participated in the October 16th protest. Bogićević, in Serbian detention, said through his lawyer that there was no talks whatsoever on a coup and no mentions of Đukanović.
The Moscow–based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), which has close ties to Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), was mentioned by mass media as one of the organisations involved in devising the coup plot; in early November 2017, Russian president Vladimir Putin sacked the RISS director, Leonid P. Reshetnikov, a ranking veteran officer of the SVR.
Persons alleged to be involved
Criminal prosecution and trial
In early June 2017, the High Court in Podgorica confirmed the indictment of 14 people, including two Russians and two pro-Russia Montenegrin opposition leaders, Andrija Mandić and Milan Knežević (the Democratic Front), who had been charged with "preparing a conspiracy against the constitutional order and the security of Montenegro" and an "attempted terrorist act." Officials alleged that the plotters had conspired to take over parliament during the October 2016 parliamentary election, assassinate then-prime minister Milo Djukanovic, and install a pro-Russian government in order to halt Montenegro's bid to join NATO. According to the prosecution, the relevant orders had been received by Saša Sinđelić, an Austria-born Serbian citizen previously convicted of murder in Croatia and now acting as a witness for the prosecution, from Eduard Shishmakov (at first referred to by media as Shirokov), who had earlier been expelled from Poland as an exposed officer of the Russian military intelligence.
On 6 September 2017, the trial of those indicted began in the High Court in Podgorica, the two Russian nationals, Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, being tried in absentia. In a separate case, on 18 October 2017 Milan Knežević was convicted of assaulting a policeman on 17 October 2015 and sentenced to 7 months in prison.
At the end of October 2017, the court heard evidence from Saša Sinđelić, who, among other things, reportedly told the court he had learned from Eduard Shishmakov of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Head of the Chechen Republic, being involved in the coup plot. At the end of November 2017, the Russian daily broadsheet Izvestia reported that Andrija Mandić and Milan Knežević had sent a letter to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, saying Kadyrov had figured in the indictment starting from the previous week and requesting Russia′s support. The defence sought to question the credibility and psychiatric competence of the prosecutor's witness.
In early June 2018, the court in Podgorica heard evidence from Brian Scott, a former CIA operative and the chief executive officer of a U.S. risk-management company: he was questioned by prosecutors about the role of another former CIA operative and Scott′s colleague, Joseph Assad, a naturalised U.S. citizen, who stayed on Montenegro in the autumn of 2017 and made a request to provide assistance to the Democratic Front political party on security matters and evacuation. Scott stated that his company, Strategic Risk Management, refused the request due to reports of a connection between Democratic Front and Russian intelligence officers. In July 2018, the Montenegrin prosecutors launched a formal investigation into Joseph Assad′s alleged role in the coup plot.
On 28 April 2017, Montenegro’s parliament voted 46-0 to join NATO, while the majority of opposition parties kept boycotting parliament sessions and protesters burned NATO flags outside. Tensions between Montenegro and Russia continued to escalate thereafter.
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