14 people, including 2 Russians, charged with attempted coup in Montenegro
Montenegro has charged 14 people - including two Russians and two Montenegrin opposition leaders - with the attempted coup in October 2016, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
The high court in the capital, Podgorica, said the 14 people were charged with "creating a criminal organization."
The two Russians were also charged with "terrorism."
Montenegrin authorities said the 14 accused attempted to take over parliament, assassinate then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, and install pro-Russian leaders to keep the country from joining NATO.
The two Russian operatives, Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, were said to have orchestrated the attempted coup from Serbia. The Serbian government acknowledged that they were in Serbia and used encrypted phones but allowed them to return to Russia.
They are still at large, and Interpol is currently searching for them.
One of the indicted Montenegrin opposition leaders, Andrija Mandic, said on Thursday that the charges were "a staged political process against the opposition."
Despite their opposition to Montenegro joining NATO, Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attempted coup.
The two Russians allegedly spent months recruiting and equipping a small force of Serbian nationalists who were to disguise themselves as local police and kill Djukanovic. The plot was uncovered only hours before it was to be set in motion.
Montenegro's special prosecutor said that the plotters would have mingled with Democratic Front protesters outside the parliament building while the election results were announced.
Then, at the right time, they would have forced their way inside and, during the confusion, opened fire on the crowd "so that citizens would think that the official police are shooting at them."
"Had it been executed, such a scenario would have had an unforeseeable consequence," he told The Telegraph.
The prosecutor said that he had "obtained evidence that the plan was not only to deprive of liberty, but also to deprive of life the then prime minister."
For years, Moscow has been intent on Montenegro staying neutral, and has repeatedly sought access to its Adriatic ports.
Moscow is also suspected of pouring millions of euros into a pro-Russian election campaign run by Montenegro's opposition party, the Democratic Front, months before the coup.
Russia's alleged role in the attempted Montenegro coup is but one example of Moscow's larger aim to spy on and influence the region, according to numerous reports from Eastern Europe.
Montenegro was invited to join NATO in December 2015. After the US Senate backed its accession, President Donald Trump signed the ratification early this week.
"Involving Montenegro into NATO is profoundly erroneous, disagrees with fundamental interests of people in that country, and damages stability in the Balkans and in Europe as a whole," the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
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