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memri
November 24, 2016 No.
6693

Russia's Orbit - Part II - The Attempted Coup In Montenegro

On October 16, 2016, Montenegro held its parliamentary elections, in which the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) scored another victory, albeit a slim one, winning 36 seats outs of 81. On the day of the elections, the former commander of the Serbian Gendarmerie, Bratislav Dikic, was arrested and accused of plotting a coup, that would involve killing civilians and murdering Montenegrin PM Milo Djukanovic, as well as temporarily shutting-down of the WhatsApp and Viber messaging apps.[1] He was arrested along with 19 other Serbian citizens. The Montenegrin government disclosed: "These persons were suspected of forming criminal organizations and terrorism on Montenegrin territory. As suspected, they had entered Montenegro and had the intention of first seizing the automatic weapons, and [then] carrying out tonight attacks against institutions of the system, the police and representatives of the state authorities, not excluding the possibility of attacks on high-ranking state officials."[2] The investigation includes several Montenegrin citizens belonging to the pro-Russian party Democratic Front and two Russians, Eduard Shirokov and Vladimir Popov, suspected of being masterminds of the plot.[3]  

Among the Serbian members that participated to the plot appears also Aleksandar Sasa Sindjelic, a reputed founder of the pro-Russian organization The Serbian Wolves". According to Krym.Realii, he participated in Russia's 2014 Crimea annexation.[4] The Montenegrin media outlet Cdm.me reported that Sindjelic was responsible for "recruiting other members of the organization, transferring money between the organizers and members of the group, providing weapons, phones, buying police equipment, uniforms, shields, batons, body amours, tear gas, gas masks and other equipment that would be used by the group members during the attack on the Parliament."[5] According to Cdm.me, the investigation order claimed that  Sindjelic received €200,000 from the Russians and distributed the money to members of the criminal group. Dikic received €15,000 and $500.[6]  

On October 25, Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said that several people were arrested in connection with the attempted coup in Montenegro.[7] He said that numerous groups acting under "outside control" were involved.[8] The Russian daily Kommersant wrote that according to information leaked to the local media, these groups used encrypted telephones, two of which were discovered in Serbia and in Montenegro, and the third one, "located in Russia", was out of reach.[9]  

Vucic confirmed the information given by the Montenegrin Special Prosecutor, Milivoje Katnic, that a group of Serbian citizens, led by Dikic, had been arrested, for planning to seize the Skupstina, the Montenegrin parliament, after the October 16 elections and planned to open fire upon the participants of an opposition rally in order to provoke chaos and to storm the parliament.[10] Vucic said that the Serbian law enforcement had discovered "several additional dangerous groups" involved in realization of this plan, adding that "very serious people" are behind them. "The arrested people had acted in coordination with foreigners, there is an incontestable evidence that certain people had traced every step of the Montenegrin prime minister and were informing other people who were supposed to act in accordance to their instructions. We have found €125,000, special uniforms and other things. The Montenegrin prime minister had been traced by the most modern equipment," Vucic stated. He then added: "Deeply mistaken were those who assumed that Serbia will participate in this crime in any way."[11]  

The leader of Serbia's opposition Liberal-Democratic Party, Cedomir Jovanovic, said that everybody should be "worried" over Vucic's revelations. Jovanovic said: "A normal person cannot ignore such issues taking into account that they produce some other issues - whether things that, as we claim, happened in Montenegro represent a message to Vucic, his government and Serbia, a message that means that we are not allowed to have an independent European policy... Serbia is faced with a most brutal war. We are not allowed to live a normal life, to become a European Union member and to approach to NATO and Russia is behind all of this. We must not ignore this."[12]  

The former Montenegrin Foreign Minister and the country's first ambassador to Washington, Miodrag Vlahovic, said that disclosing new details of the failed coup "will only help Montenegro join NATO urgently".[13]

Meanwhile, on October 26, Montenegro's PM Milo Djukanovic stepped down from office, after 27 years in power. He then named the party's deputy president and former intelligence chief Dusko Markovic as the new Montenegrin Prime Minister, charged with form a new government.

Russia denied any involvement in the Montenegrin events. [14]

Below are excerpts of an article published in the Russian media outlet Gazeta.ru, titled "Russia Has Ousted The Montenegrin Prime Minister; Montenegro's PM Quits After Rumors Of A Pro-Russian Plot." The article argues that the situation in Montenegro is yet another irritant in the relations between Moscow and NATO.[15]

 
A map. of Montenegro


Former commander of the Serbian Gendarmerie Bratislav Dikic (Source: B92.net)


Aleksandar Sasa Sindjelic (Source: Cdm.me)

'It Would Be An Odd Coincidence If The Rebels Were Not Connected To... The Pro-Russian Democratic Front'

"The ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) of Montenegro announced on October 26 that the PM Milo Djukanovic was stepping down. He will be replaced by his deputy, Dusko Markovic. A few hours before the announcement Djukanovic spoke about an anti-government conspiracy. According to him, during the October 16 parliamentary elections, conspirators connected to foreign special services tried to derail the elections. They were Serbs.  


Outgoing Montenegrin PM Milo Djukanovic (Source: Balkaneu.com)

"A day before that, the Serbian prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, also spoke about 'several dangerous groups' that acted in the territory of Serbia and Montenegro 'under foreign control.' According to the politician, secret service agents from a third country had Djukanovic under surveillance and attempted to sabotage the elections.

"The mass media, in their turn, linked the conspirators to Russia. According to the Montenegrin newspaper Pobjeda, the arrested conspirators had in their possession (in addition to weapons, big sums in cash and police uniforms) three special encrypted phones with high level protection, phone number and geolocation change function, and emergency memory wipe.

"According to this information, one such phone was confiscated in Montenegro, another in Serbia, and yet another is at the moment shut off and is in Russia.

"In an interview prior to his resignation, Djukanovic stated: it would be an odd coincidence if the rebels were unconnected to his main political opponent - the pro-Russian Democratic Front.

'Djukanovic's Resignation And The Accusation Against The Democratic Front Of Having Ties To Russia Reflect A Sharp Political Game'

"Twenty Serbs, including the former commander of the Serbian gendarmerie, General Bratislav Dikic, were arrested on October 16 in Podgorica. Dikic, leader of the Patriotic Movement of Serbia, immediately declared that he had come to Montenegro to pray at a local monastery, and the telephone, as well as keys to a warehouse containing weapons, had been planted on him by the police.

Marat Guelman, a gallery owner and a former political strategist residing in Montenegro, posted the details of the conspirators' plan on his Facebook page and this was republished by the local opposition paper Vijesti. 'The plan was as follows: 1. Provoke an opposition rally against the elections results near the parliament; 2. People in police uniform who have infiltrated the parliament (the group that was arrested) will shoot at the rally; 3. Further action depends on circumstances," the statement said. 


Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic (Source: Cdm.me)

"As Guelman has told Gazeta.Ru, at first the population was somewhat skeptical about this version of events. It was conceivable that the entire conspiracy was a provocation on the part of Djukanovic, a plan to discredit the opposition that was gaining momentum. 'But at the moment, nobody thinks so, because both the prosecutor [special prosecutor Milivoje Katnić, who is in charge of the case - Gazeta.Ru] and the chief editor of Vijesti are the PM's opponents. The prosecutor recently put in jail the mayor of Budva, who is also the leader of the local DPS branch,' Guelman says.

"However, according to Gazeta.Ru's informed source in Montenegro who wished to remain anonymous, Djukanovic's resignation and the accusation against the Democratic Front of having ties to Russia reflect a sharp political game that began after the parliamentary elections. 'It is true, Djukanovic's party utterly defeated the opposition. Still, DPS failed to secure a majority in the parliament. A coalition with other, moderate, parties is needed,' says our source, 'Djukanovic's character alienated many potential allies. That's why the announcement about his resignation must be a big concession for the potential coalition partners.'

"In our interlocutor's opinion, the smear campaign against the Democratic Front during the coalition talks may be a 'back-up plan,' to prevent pro-Russian forces from exploiting the situation...  


Outgoing Montenegrin PM Milo Djukanovic With Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic (Source: Balkaneu.com)

'Serbia And Montenegro Have Become An Arena For The 'Great Game' Between The East And The West'

"Thus, Djukanovic via his resignation is repeating the political manoeuver that already helped his party stay in power in 2006 and 2010. This time, his stepping down increases the chances of forming a coalition against pro-Russian forces. Nevertheless, the question of the attempt to seize the Montenegrin parliament is still pertinent.

"The Democratic Front is vehemently opposed to Montenegro's possible accession to NATO and the EU. If this political force's connections to Serbian conspirators - and especially to Russia - are confirmed, this will become yet another irritant in the relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic alliance...

"In his talk with Gazeta.Ru, an independent Serbian political analyst Aleksandar Radić noted the ambivalence of the situation for Serbia. On the one hand, Belgrade has sent a clear message that it is not connected to the activists who were preparing the armed provocation. The Serbian leadership claims that these were actions by ultra-right nationalist organizations that enjoy financial, political and informational support from abroad. The country's elite is steadily working towards Euro-integration and entry into NATO, and statements like this one demonstrate the firmness of their position to their allies. 'On the other hand, the idea of friendship or at least military neutrality with Russia (as in the era of Tito and the Non-Aligned Movement) is traditionally popular among the Serbs,' says Radić, 'Therefore Vucic also could not firmly declare that Russian secret services were involved in the incident.'

"The expert also reminded us that some time ago, an 'antiwar movement' against joining NATO was organized in Montenegro; it was supported quite vociferously by, among others, the then deputy chairman of the State Duma Sergei Zheleznyak. 'Serbia and Montenegro have become an arena for the "Great Game" between the East and the West. The US and Russian intelligence services are very active here,' says the analyst. "Djukanovic's resignation coincided with Nikolai Patrushev's (the head of Russia's Security Council and the former head of the FSB) visit to Belgrade; in the course of the visit he will discuss 'the condition and prospects for development of the Russian-Serbian dialogue in the security sphere' with the country's leaders..."

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] Gov.me, October 20, 2016.

[2] Gov.me, October 16, 2016.

[3] According to the investigation, the two Russian nationals, Eduard Vladimirovich Shirokov and Vladimir Nikolayevich Popov, formed several groups on the territory of Montenegro, Serbia and Russia with the aim of "carrying out an unspecified number of criminal acts of terrorism" and most serious crimes "assassination of top officials of Montenegro". The media outlet Cdm.me mentioned that according to the act the pro-Kremlin Montenegrin political party Democratic Front (DF) and an unidentified person from this party was "to command potential agitators who would have entered the Parliament of Montenegro, shot at the police and arrested Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic... Dikic had a task to arrive to Montenegro on October 16th and to keep the group gathered during the protests, organizing their movements. He would have assistance from one DF member that would command the entrance into the Parliament. Dikic was to give him a phone with a private connection so he could communicate with the Russians". Cdm.me, November 16, November 19, November 22, 2016. For a video of the equipment seized by the Montengrin prosecution see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgN98M7Hbiw

[4] Ukraine Today reported: "A video record of Skype conversation between Sindjelic and Vencislav Bujic, a Serbian political scientist, dated March 11th, 2015, was published by the agency. During the conversation, Sinđelić tells his companion about his ties with Russia's Ministry of Defense. He also talks about a man named Bratislav Zivkovic, who, according to Sindjelic, was a member of the so-called 'Chetnicks', a Serbian combatant organization, the militants of which joined the Russian 'Cossacks' in guarding the Sevastopol checkpoints during the Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. It was Sindjelic who was giving recommendations to the Russian military on the Serbian volunteer militants seeking to join Russia's operation of invading Crimea, Vencislav Bujic told the agency. Sindjelic also mentioned making trips to Moscow concerning his pro-Russian conspiracies and had a direct access to the Ministry of Defense of Russia. In particular, he said that he subsequently lost his trust towards Zivkovic and persuaded Russian military officials to arrest him." Uatoday.tv, November 21, 2016.

[5] Cdm.me, November 19, 2016.

[6] Cdm.me, November 19, 2016.

[7] After Dikic's arrest, Serbian PM Vucic was skeptical that the Serbian nationals arrested in Montenegro were planning to commit acts of terrorism. Vucic said: "Every day Mr. Dikic criticizes the Serbian government, but I would like to see ... real and serious data whether he was planning some kind of terror." Balkaneu.com, October 17, 2016.

[8] Appearing on the Serbian political talk show Cirilica, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said: "As for the issue in Montenegro, what I know is worse than frightening, but I will not go into what the media published. While I was listening to and reading those things, I felt so bad that I said to myself: 'You'll have to swallow your statements... I stated in Prokuplje that I did not think anything serious happened in Montenegro. [See endnote n.5]." He then added: ""You have seen that it was said in Montenegro that Serbia acted professionally and responsibly as a serious state. And we did. Was it easy or not? Well, those were those nights without sleep, I cannot even say what challenges you are facing in such situations containing foreign elements, when you are aware who you might get in conflict with only because you protect the law and because you are not willing to be an accomplice in the most serious crimes. I'm not going to participate in that." Cdm.me, November 22, 2016.

[9] Kommersant.com, October 25, 2016.

[10] Kommersant.com, October 25, 2016.

[11] Kommersant.com, October 25, 2016.

[12] Balkaneu.com, October 25, 2016.

[13] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6443, Russian Reactions To Negotiations On Montenegro's NATO Membership, May 20, 2016.

[14] .Rt.com, November 7, 2016.

[15] Gazeta.ru, October 26, 2016. Authors: Ignat Kalinin, Igor Kriuchkov.