Montenegro jails opposition chiefs over 2016 coup plot
Despite a 19-month trial, details of the planned coup remain largely unknown with the opposition Democratic Front claiming the case was a “witch hunt” aimed at preventing it from coming to power.
Chief judge Suzana Mugosa said the Russians, named as Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, were convicted in absentia for “attempted terrorism” and “creating a criminal organisation”.
Shishmakov received 15 years while Popov was handed a 12-year term.
Two prominent ethnic-Serb opposition politicians, Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, were each sentenced to five years.
The Democratic Front said before the verdict that a conviction of its leaders would risk “irremediably destabilising” Montenegro.
It decried the “staged political trial” and a government-sponsored witch-hunt.
An appeal is expected against the convictions.
Russia strongly opposed Montenegro’s accession to Nato in 2017, fearing a loss of strategic access to the Adriatic Sea among other factors.
The court said the coup was planned for election day on October 16 with the assassination of then-prime minister now president, Milo Djukanovic. The plan was to install a pro-Russia, anti-Nato administration.
Mandic accused Djukanovic of taking advantage of a “wave of anti-Russian hysteria to attack” opponents. “Without this so-called coup d’état, the regime would certainly be in opposition today,” he said during the trial.
Djukanovic has dominated Montenegro’s politics since the 1990s when Serb wartime leader Slobodan Milosevic installed him to run the former Yugoslav republic. He made the strategic decision to turn towards the west and away from Belgrade. He was elected president last year.
Montenegro separated from Serbia in 2006 and joined Nato, despite strong opposition from Moscow.
Russia denies the allegations and a sizeable minority of Montenegrins want closer ties with Moscow.
Montenegro’s police said they thwarted the coup after receiving tipoffs from western intelligence.
The Russian pair are alleged members of the notorious GRU military secret service and coordinated the attempted coup from neighbouring Serbia, the court ruled.
They were allowed by Serbia to leave with sophisticated spy equipment.
The pair tried to recruit “as many people as possible to come to the protest [to] change the electoral will” and “prevent Montenegro from joining Nato”, the court was told.
Montenegro has a strategically important coastline. Picture credit: Wikimedia