Montenegro sentences Russian agents for anti-government coup plot

A Montenegrin court handed last Thursday jail sentences to 14 people, including opposition politicians, over an alleged Russia-backed coup plot in 2016. The judge said the plot was aimed at stopping Montenegro from joining NATO. The two sentenced opposition politicians, Andrija Mancic and Milan Knezevic, got five years in jail each.

Two Russian agents were convicted in absentia. Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov got 12 and 15 years in jail respectively. According to Montenegrin authorities, the Russians who were slapped with the hardest sentences, are agents of the Russian military intelligence, known as GRU. British investigative site Bellingcat and Insider magazine claim that Popov is a nickname of GRU agent Vladimir Moiseev, who has visited countries such as Bulgaria, Serbia, Georgia and Greece many times in 2013-2016. There is an international warrant on him as well.

Despite a 19-month trial, details of the plan remain murky. The opposition has decried the prosecution and trial as a “witch hunt” aimed at preventing it from coming to power. Passing sentence, the presiding judge said that the Russians had provided the plotters with money to buy weapons and use them to topple the authorities..

They has tried to recruit “as many people as possible to come to the protest” in order to “change the electoral will” and “prevent Montenegro from joining NATO”. “Each member of the criminal organisation had a task and role that had been previously determined and the criminal organization was ready to implement violence and intimidation,” the judge added. Moscow denies any involvement, while the sentenced politicians are expected to appeal the ruling.

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