New evidence links the Kremlin to efforts to destabilize Montenegro and slow its path to NATO

John R. Schindler writes: For Vladimir Putin, NATO expansion is a major bugbear and any chance Russia gets to thwart further expansion of the Atlantic Alliance is an opportunity not to be missed. Not to mention that the breakup of Yugoslavia — which the Russian leader has repeatedly held up as an example of what Western governments do to smaller Slavic states — is viewed with shame in the Kremlin. Here, too, Putin wants payback.

Just how serious Moscow is about Montenegro was revealed in a sinister plot that was unmasked last fall, shortly before its execution. In mid-October, Montenegrin authorities arrested some 20 people, most of them citizens of neighboring Serbia, for conspiring to overthrow the government in Podgorica and assassinate Prime Minister Milo Djukanović, the wily politician who ruled Montenegro from 1991 until 2016. Soon it emerged that the plot ringleaders were two Russian nationalists. While Montenegrin officials were careful not to point fingers directly at the Kremlin, questions lingered about what really happened.

The two Russians were quickly expelled from the country. That several of the Serbs and Montenegrins who were arrested for their role in the plot had served with Russian forces fighting in eastern Ukraine — where Moscow’s proxy war has included the use of foreign mercenaries, including Slavic nationalists from Eastern Europe — appeared to be more than a coincidence. Security services in the Balkans and beyond suspected that Russian intelligence was the hidden hand behind the plot, which seemed plausible given the large amounts of cash and the late-model communications gear found in the possession of the coup plotters.

That said, hard evidence of Moscow’s role didn’t appear immediately. While the Kremlin unquestionably wanted to dissuade Montenegro from joining NATO, assaulting the parliament in Podgorica and assassinating the prime minister to install a pro-Russian government seemed like outrageous behavior, even for Putin’s Kremlin — which is hardly squeamish about employing what Russian spies term wetwork against their enemies abroad.

Now, however, there is solid evidence that the Kremlin was directly behind the plot against Montenegro. [Continue reading…]

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