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Did Kremlin Support Coup Attempt in Montenegro?

Sergey Lavrov

Sergey Lavrov

Foreign Minister, Russia

“It stands in the same row with other unfounded allegations against us and our country…On none of these unfounded allegations had we been presented with a single fact.”

Likely False
Montenegrin officials say they have proof...

Speaking to Prva TV on February, 19, Montenegro's special prosecutor said Russian secret service operatives were behind an attempted election day coup in October 2016 in the Balkan nation that targeted the former prime minister.

“Russian state bodies were involved at a certain level, “said prosecutor Milivoje Kantic.

Eduard Shishmakov, an alleged Russian military spy, was the principal planner, he said. Montenegran officials said the plot sought to undermine the country’s bid to join NATO.

According to Kantic, Shishmakov and another Russian operative orchestrated the coup from neighboring Serbia using mobile phone encryption and surveillance technology.

About 20 people - including Shishmakov and several pro-Russia citizens of Serbia - are wanted by Montenegrin police.

Shishmakov was traveling under a passport issued to the name of Eduard Shirokov, Kantic said.

‘So the passport was given to him by certain Russian state bodies under another name, and he is a member of the Russian military structures," Katnic said. "It is clear that the passport on another name could not have been issued...without the involvement of certain (Russian state) structures."

Citing documents, a Russian news agency, based in Saint Petersburg, said Shishmakov and Shirokov are one and the same.

Shishmakov, was a Russian secret service operative who once served as deputy military attache to Poland.

Following Kantic’s allegations, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, called the claim as "absurd" and "irresponsible."

"There can't be even talk about any sort of Russian officials' interference into Montenegro's internal affairs," Peskov said. "Russia hasn't interfered and isn't going to interfere into domestic affairs of other countries, and in particular Montenegro with which we have very good relations."

But analysts say Russia and Montenegro had good relations after Montenegro's independence referendum, but they soured after it became clear that Montenegro was planning and would join NATO.

And as for Russia not interfering in other nations domestic affairs, a fact check shows growing evidence of Russian meddling in elections and public opinion in the West.

Still, Lavrov said the Montenegrin claims are “unfounded allegations” and added there is “not a single fact” to prove the accusation.

The Russian Embassy in Podgorica said it had received no official inquiries regarding the accusations.

But there is growing evidence from outside of Montenegro that Russia was likely behind the attempt coup.

On February 18, the British newspaper The Telegraph reported, citing British government sources, that UK and U.S. intelligence have found evidence of Russian government involvement. The report concluded that Moscow had given its "support and blessing" to the plot.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also reportedly discussed the issue on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bonn, Germany on February 15.

Lavrov said the British report was "far-fetched." He said the British media had "more than once hyped scenarios out of thin air, such as the (Aleksandr) Litvinenko issue," referring to the former KGB officer and critic of Putin who was assassinated with radioactive poison in London in 2006.

Russian political scholar Anton Shekhovtsov, a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Austria, told via email, that “Montenegrin chief prosecutor's accusations are quite serious. I also think that some Russian actors were behind the failed coup attempt.”

But Shekhovtsov said it is “necessary to know whether those Russians involved in the case acted on the direct orders from any Russian state agency or whether they were independent political entrepreneurs who sought to 'present' the coup to the Kremlin and get something in return for their actions.”