Russian nationalists backed a criminal group that plotted to assassinate Montenegro’s pro-western Prime Minister during the run-up to last month’s election as part of a bid to sway the vote, a top prosecutor told reporters on Sunday.
Milivoje Katnic said “nationalists from Russia” directed the organised group, which had planned to storm the country’s Parliament on election day and kill Milo Đukanovic with a view to securing victory for a pro-Russian coalition.
On the day of the vote, a number of people from Montenegro and Serbia were arrested in connection with the attempted coup, 14 of whom remain in custody. It is thought that some of those detained had previously fought with pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine, and had attempted to recruit a long-range sniper to take Đukanovic out.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said last month that his country had uncovered evidence that Đukanovic was being tracked by people who intended to pass information onto others “who were supposed to act on it”.
Opposition groups had suggested the discovery of the alleged plot was nothing more than propaganda circulated by Đukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which they claimed was trying to use the country’s security services to extend its leader’s grip on power.
For his part, Đukanovic had previously accused parties standing against him of accepting money from Russians groups looking to influence the 16 October vote.
“The organisers of this criminal group were nationalists from Russia whose initial premise and conclusion was that the government in Montenegro led my Milo Djukanovic cannot be changed in election and that it should be toppled by force,” Katnic said on Sunday.
“State authorities revealed that a criminal group had been formed on the territories of Montenegro, Serbia and Russia with a task to commit an act of terrorism.”
Responding to the allegations, a Kremlin spokesperson denied any official involvement in the plot. However, Moscow has previously made clear its support for opponents of Đukanovic.
“We don’t have any evidence that the state of Russia is involved in any sense… but we have evidence that two nationalists from Russia were organisers,” Katnic said.
Đukanovic, who was last year named Man of the Year in Organised Crime by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) after being linked to corruption and criminal organisations, had attempted to position the election as a choice between his pro-Western agenda and his opponents’ desire to move Montenegro closer to Russia.
After a poor showing at the polls that saw the DPS lose its parliamentary majority, Đukanovic stood down as Prime Minster after having served at the top of government for more than 25 years.
Montenegrin opposition groups have yet to comment on Katnic’s allegations.