In Montenegro, the largest, according to local authorities, anti-spy operation in the history of the country unfolded. Six Russian diplomats, several more Russian citizens, whose names were not released, and two citizens of Montenegro are under investigation on suspicion of working for Russian intelligence, the Montenegrin edition of Vesti reported .
Among the suspects is the former press secretary of the Montenegrin Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Radomir Sekulovich (62), the publication claims, citing several sources. Sekulovich held this position during the state union of Serbia and Montenegro, which finally collapsed in 2006. He has been involved in consular matters for more than 30 years.
The Special State Prosecutor's Office said that during the day, searches were conducted in premises associated with the suspects. “The owners of the premises are present during the search,” it was reported.
Montenegrin Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic, whose government was voted of no confidence in August, announced the detention of several people. According to him, this operation, prepared by the National Security Agency (NSA), is carried out in cooperation with international partners in order to protect the national interests of Montenegro. Abazovich refused to name the detainees. When asked if today's operation is related to his recent visit to the United States, the politician replied : "I can only say that my visit was very successful and will positively affect the rule of law in Montenegro."
Foreign Minister Ranko Krivokapic said at a government meeting that the operation against Russian spies affects "dozens" of people. According to him, given the size of the country, this is one of the largest anti-spy operations within NATO.
Earlier, the NSA unofficially reported that Russian services were behind a powerful cyber attack that disabled the state's IT infrastructure. It was alleged that the cyber attack began in late August and its effects are still being felt. FBI experts assisted the Montenegrin authorities in the investigation.
Diplomatic relations between Montenegro and Russia deteriorated sharply in 2014, when Podgorica supported EU sanctions over the annexation of Crimea. Montenegro also joined the Western sanctions against Moscow and because of the invasion of Ukraine in February this year, because of which the Russian authorities put it on the list of “hostile states”. Over the past six months, six Russian diplomats have been expelled from Podgorica due to activities incompatible with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Russia is one of the main investors in Montenegro. The citizens of the Russian Federation account for a quarter of the tourist flow and about 20% of companies registered by foreigners. According to real estate agents, Russian citizens own several thousand properties on the Budva Riviera alone. However, political relations between the two countries have been in crisis for a long time. On the eve of Montenegro's entry into NATO in 2017, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the local political elite of betrayal. Prior to this, the Montenegrin authorities accused Russia of attempting to organize a coup d'état on the day of the parliamentary elections on October 16, 2016.
In 2019, the court issued a guilty verdict in this case, but last year it was overturned, and the case was sent for a new trial. Among the main defendants are two Russian citizens: Eduard Shishmakov, previously put on the wanted list under the name Shirokov, and Vladimir Popov, identified during the investigation as Moiseev. They were sentenced in absentia to 15 and 12 years in prison, respectively. The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected "the possibility of official involvement of the Russian side in illegal actions." In addition to the two Russians, this case concerns 12 other people, including the leaders of the pro-Kremlin "Democratic Front" Milan Knezevic and Andrija Mandic.