Serbia unmasks plot to sway election in neighbouring Montenegro

Deputy Prime Minister of Montenegro Igor Luksic [L], shakes hands with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. 2 December, 2015. [NATO]

Serbia has detained a number of people over a suspected plot to sway the outcome of Montenegro’s 16 October election, the Serbian prime minister said yesterday (24 October), citing “undeniable and material” evidence found by his country’s security services.

Aleksandar Vučić’s remarks were the first detailed Serbian reaction to the arrests on election day in Montenegro of 20 Serbian citizens, including a retired police general. They are accused of planning attacks on government institutions and officials.

Montenegro election marred by ‘coup’ accusations

Montenegro said it had arrested 20 Serbs for planning to carry out attacks after voting wrapped up in the Balkan nation’s tense parliamentary elections yesterday (16 October).

The vote, in which veteran Prime Minister Milo Djukanović’s party came out ahead but without a parliamentary majority, was billed as an opportunity for voters to endorse his pro-NATO and pro-EU stance, instead of pursuing closer relationships with traditional allies like Serbia and Russia.

NATO and Russia's influence dominate Montenegro vote

NATO membership will be a central issue in Montenegro’s general election on Sunday (16 October), with the vote marking the latest episode in a power struggle between Russia and the West in the Balkans.

Vučić told a news conference that the evidence found included €125,000 in cash and stashed uniforms that were to be used in attacks on Montenegrin state institutions and individuals. Supportive evidence had been given by detained suspects under questioning, he said.

Vučić gave no details of the nature of the attacks planned on 16 October. He also did not name the suspects Serbian authorities had found, some of whom were in custody, but said they were not the same as those arrested in Montenegro.

“We have undeniable evidence that certain individuals, and they are certainly not those arrested down there, have been following movements of the Montenegrin prime minister and informing other people about them,” Vučić said, adding that other groups might yet be found.

“We could not find evidence of involvement by Serbian or Montenegrin politicians,” he added.

Serbia and Montenegro, its tiny neighbour on the Adriatic coast, are both former Yugoslav republics whose governments are seeking closer ties with the European Union and NATO against the wishes of some opposition nationalists and leftists.

Russian money

Before the election, Djukanović told Reuters that Russia was financing the opposition in order to derail Montenegro’s imminent NATO membership. Opposition parties, many also pro-NATO, deny this and reject the outcome of the “rigged” vote.

Cyber attacks shut down media and party websites and Montenegrin authorities suspended instant messaging services for much of election day, saying illegal “direct marketing” – believed to refer to opposition campaigning – was taking place.

Montenegro hit by cyber-attacks on election day

The Ministry for Information Society and Telecommunications of Montenegro has announced that several important websites were targeted by cyber-attacks on Sunday (16 October), the day of the country’s parliamentary elections.

While election observers found that the outcome broadly reflected “the will of the people”, Djukanović, who has dominated Montenegro’s political life for a quarter for a century, has been accused of authoritarian tendencies.

His Democratic Party of Socialists, which won 36 seats in the 81-member parliament, is seeking allies to build a majority coalition, but it remains unclear if other parties will support him.

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