A special prosecutor in Montenegro on Sunday accused a group of “nationalists from Russia” of planning to kill Milo Djukanovic in an attempt to bring pro-Russian parties to power.
“We, obviously, categorically deny the possibility of official involvement in arranging any illegal actions,” Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin, said on Monday.
Authorities in Montenegro, which is on its way to joining the Nato military alliance, arrested 20 Serbian citizens on the border between the two countries during the vote on October 16 and accused them of planning armed attacks against state institutions.
Montenegro’s main opposition alliance, the Democratic Front, accused prosecutors of fabricating the alleged Russian plot. The opposition rejected the result of last month’s poll, alleging it was rigged.
The aftermath of the Montenegrin ballot has been shrouded in an unusual level of intrigue even for elections in the Balkans. The trading of conspiracy accusations comes amid an intensifying struggle for influence between the EU and Russia in the former Yugoslavia and south-eastern Europe.
Pro-Russian and pro-European candidates will face off against each other next Sunday in presidential elections in Moldova, while relations with Russia have been a key issue in a presidential poll in Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest member, which goes to its second round next Sunday.
Montenegro’s parliamentary elections saw “patriotic” parties challenge Mr Djukanovic’s ambitions to take Montenegro into the EU and Nato. The premier’s campaign presented the vote as a choice between integration with the west or becoming a “Russian colony”.
Mr Djukanovic said late last month he would stand down as premier, after suggesting Russia was involved in an alleged coup attempt on election day.
Milivoje Katnic, the special prosecutor, said on Sunday an investigation had concluded that Russian nationalists had organised a criminal group that planned to break into the republic’s parliament on election day. The group included members from Montenegro, Serbia and Russia.
“We don’t have any evidence that the state of Russia is involved in any sense … but we have evidence that two nationalists from Russia were organisers,” Mr Katnic said..
He added that plotters had planned for 500 people to enter Montenegro on election night to “cause violence … and hire professional sharpshooters to kill the prime minister”.
“The plan was to stop Montenegro on its Euro-Atlantic path, especially to prevent it from entering Nato,” the prosecutor added.
But some independent media and human rights groups have pointed to alleged inconsistencies in the prosecutor’s findings.
Serbia also detained and deported several Russian nationals after the election for allegedly plotting attacks in Montenegro, Serbia’s prime minister Aleksandar Vucic announced on October 24.
Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s security council, made a surprise visit to Serbia following the deportations and met senior officials.
Russian officials have denied any involvement in any supposed plot in Montenegro, but have backed its “patriotic” opposition. The country is expected to join Nato next year, but Russia has called the prospect a “confrontational” step that could further destabilise regional security.