Montenegro coup plotters colleagues of Skripal’s poisoners

Passports of Shishmakov and Moiseev are of a series reserved for Russia’s military intelligence

The passports of the two Russians who were tried and sentenced in absentia for organising the 2016 attempted coup d'état in Montenegro were part of a series “reserved” for the Russian military intelligence GRU. The information was unearthed in a probe conducted jointly by the British website for investigative journalism Bellingcat and the Russian publication Insider. The special series of passports also connects the leaders of the Montenegro plot to three GRU agents involved in the use of the nerve agent Novichok in the UK town of Salisbury against the former double agent Sergei Skripal.

On 9 May 2019, the Supreme Court of Montenegro sentenced in absentia the two Russian citizens Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov (the latter’s real surname is Moiseev) to 15 and 12 years of imprisonment, respectively. They were found guilty of organising the attempted coup of 16 October 2016 and of another charge of involvement in the plot to assassinate then prime minister and current president Milo Đukanović and thus hinder the country’s accession to NATO, as BBC reports, reminding that Montenegro joint the military alliance in 2017.

A total of 14 people were tried before the Montenegro court for the attempted coup, at the bottom of which the investigators believe is the Kremlin. Two of the leaders of Montenegro’s pro-Russian political alliance Democratic Front were each sentenced to five years in prison – these are the lawmakers Andrija Mandić and Milan Knežević. The rest of the defendants were also convicted. Their ranks include another Montenegrin citizen (a driver who worked with the two politicians) and nine Serbian citizens. These are the former general of the Serbian police Bratislav Dikić, sentenced to eight years in prison; two members of Serbian ultranationalist groups – Nemanja Ristic and Predrag Bogicevic, each sentenced in absentia to 7 years in prison; Srboljub Djordjevic and Milan Dusic who got 18 months each; Branka Milic – three years; Dragan Maksic – a year and nine months; and Kristina Hristic – a suspended term.      

According to the Montenegrin court’s ruling, the two Russians coordinated the attempted coup from Serbia and the Serbian authorities allowed them to leave the country. According to diplomatic sources cited by the Guardian, Shishmakov and Moiseev returned to Moscow on the plane of Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s Security Council. A source close to the Serbian government told Guardian that Patrushev (a former director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB)) apologised to Belgrade for the “unsanctioned operation” carried out without authorisation from the Kremlin. A member of the Security Council, however, said that Patrushev did not apologise to anyone because he had nothing to apologise for.  

Both Shishmakov and Moiseev travelled abroad with passports featuring fictitious surnames. Shishmakov became “Shirokov” and Moiseev became “Popov”. It was under these aliases that they were named by the Montenegrin authorities as internationally wanted individuals following the failed coup attempt of 2016. It is interesting to note that their passports were issued by the same passport agency in Moscow. In addition, the two documents are part of the same series and their identification numbers are only several digits apart from the documents of the tree GRU agents incriminated in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal of March 2018. These agents used the names Alexander Petrov, Ruslan Boshirov and Sergey Fedotov, but their real identity was uncovered by a joint investigation by Bellingcat and Insider as Alexander Mishkin, Anatoliy Chepiga and Denis Sergeev. All three are alumni of military schools and are senior officers of GRU. It has been established that the first two were given the title of Hero of Russia. According to the Russian newspaper Fontanka, “Boshirov” and “Petrov” bought flight tickets from Moscow to London on 2 March 2018 with the aforementioned passports of the “65” series, whose identification numbers ended in “1924” and “1927”, respectively. The passport of “Fedotov” was issued by the same passport agency and its number differed only in the last couple of digits.

The passport of “Shirokov” differs from those of “Boshirov” and “Petrov” only in its last three digits – for “Boshirov” they are 294, for “Petrov” - 297 and for “Shirokov” - 323. This means that only about twenty passports were issued between the documents of the culprits of the Salisbury poisoning and that of the leader of the attempted coup in Montenegro. The editor-in-chief of the Insider Roman Dobrokhotov sees a special meaning in that circumstance. He believes that it reveals the way that access is gained to the database of the GRU agents and now that that information is out Russia’s military intelligence should be disbanded because all of its agents are essentially compromised.

Bellingcat and Insider also published a copy of the form filled by “Alexander Petrov” for domestic Russian passport. It shows a handwritten “s.s.” (“c.c.” in Russian), which the investigative journalists believe to mean “super secret”. The document has a seal “Do not give information” and a seven-digit number that was later revealed to be a telephone number in the Khoroshevskoye area in Moscow which hosts the headquarters of GRU. The journalists called the number and thus verified that it indeed belonged to the Ministry of Defence.

Popov awarded with apartment in Moscow, Mishkin is his neighbour

Vladimir Moiseev, Montenegrin coup plotter, graduated from the Military College in Tyumen and then was transferred to Moscow. In Moscow he served in the regiment of the special GRU forces which were involved in the Russian-Georgian war in 2008. During the next year, Moiseev was granted second identity and became Vladimir Popov. With a passport issued to this name he toured Eastern Europe. Before 2015, the coup plotter was accommodated with his family at a hostel of his military base, but afterwards his wealth status apparently improved considerably. Now, Moiseev lives in the Moscow district of Cheryomushki and his neighbour is Mishkin involved in the poisoning of Skripal. According to Insider, because such state-owned apartments come as a bonus to the title of a Hero of Russia, it may well be that “Popov” was extended this courtesy by Putin himself. 

Private Army soldiers of Putin’s cook also had passport issued by GRU

The trips of Denis Sergeev, who was also involved in the poisoning of Skripal, do not associate him only with the coup plotters in Montenegro but also with the private military company Wagner (OSM) sustained by Evgeny Prigozhin, also known as a private cook of Putin owing to his close connections with the President of the Russian Federation.

Sergeev (Fedotov) traveled to Saint Petersburg in the company of a man whose automobile was also registered at the address of the GRU headquarters – Moscow, 76, Khoroshovskoye Blvd. It is noteworthy that the car which they were driving was registered as property of coup plotter Moiseev. Another companion of Sergeev, whose name Insider so far does not disclose, has shared air trips with Shishmakov at least four times. This second passenger also traveled to Krasnodar together with the Wagner mercenaries. Insider reminds that this southern Russian city is the base of the Wagner forces. Besides, the structure’s soldiers of fortune were granted international passports with the serial number same as the agents of the GRU. This shows that the Russian intelligence in practice controls the private military corporation of Putin’s cook.  

500 coup participants divided into three groups

Some 500 people were supposed to participate in the Montenegro coup d’état planned for 16 October 2016 – the day on which the general elections in the republic were scheduled to take place. The first group was to make its way into the parliament in Podgorica. The second group was tasked with blending in with the crowd of opposition supporters protesting the election results and cause unrest. At that moment, the first group was instructed to open fire on the demonstrators.

The third group, which boasted snipers in its ranks, had the most important task. It was supposed to shoot down then Prime Minister of Montenegro Milo Đukanović. “As a result of all of this, one of the opposition parties was to seize power, which would have led to Montenegro giving up on joining NATO,” Montenegro's chief special prosecutor Milivoje Katnić said.

According to information provided by Podgorica investigators, two Russians funded Serbian nationalist Alexander Sindjelic, head of the pro-Kremlin organisation Serbian Wolves. Sindjelic fought in Donbass on the side of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic. He was charged with procuring weapons and recruit people for the purpose of organising the coup.

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