“Coup d’etat” Is Coming Back

“Coup d’etat” Is Coming Back

The topic of 2016 “coup d’état” attempt is widely discussed again in Montenegro. A court session is scheduled for mid-July for reconsideration of this high-profile case.

The prosecutor’s office has already agreed on convictions, which come down to a request to almost completely confirm the verdict that was already handed down and then canceled in the appeal proceeding. Thus, Montenegrin justice insists that an attempted violent “coup d’état” eight years ago was organized by agents of the Russian special services together with local pro-Russian politicians, whose goal was to change the government to one loyal to Russia and prevent Montenegro from joining NATO.

As you know, those involved in the “coup d’état” case became members of the Montenegrin government after the 2020 parliamentary elections, and now the current speaker of the Parliament of Montenegro сould be on trial.

A scenario of the operation

An attempted “coup d’état” in Montenegro began on October 16, 2016. Montenegrin law enforcement officers announced that they had prevented an attempt to violently overthrow the government, while voting in the parliamentary elections took place. Several people were detained who, reportedly, were going to seize the power by force and to kill the then Prime Minister of Montenegro, Milo Đukanović.

According to law enforcement officers, one of the main organizers of the putsch was the leader of the Serbian Wolves radical organization, Alexandr (Sasha) Sindjelic. After his arrest, Sindzhelich agreed to cooperate with the Montenegrin investigation and turned from a key suspect to the main prosecution witness.

Thanks to Sindjelic’s testimony and assistance, the law enforcement agency managed to get the details of the plan and the already made actions of the putschists.

The investigation lasted several years.

On May 9, 2019, the High Court in Podgorica announced the verdict.

According to the verdict, the perpetrators found guilty of creating a criminal organization and acting internationally – on the territory of Russia, Serbia and Montenegro – in order to overthrow the constitutional system of Montenegro by force and to prevent the country from joining NATO (remember, Montenegro became a member of NATO a year and a half after the failed putsch).

The scenario of the coup included:

• An opposition protest in the government district of Podgorica due to disagreement with the results of the elections (in which, according to all forecasts, the ruling party led by the then Prime Minister of Montenegro, Milo Đukanović, should have won).

• At the same time, the members of the Montenegrin anti-terrorist unit had to be neutrilized. After that, the rioters dressed in their uniforms, had to join the opposition rally, staging a provocative shooting, allegedly to show demonstrators the law enforcement officers’ support.

• Then there was to be a seizure of government institutions, in particular the parliament.

• At the same time, it was planned an assassination attempt on Đukanović.

According to the verdict, the organizers of the putsch – several Serbian and Montenegrin citizens and two Russians – received different years of imprisonment.

The former head of the gendarmerie of Serbia, now the leader of the Patriotic Movement of Serbia (PPS) Bratislav Dikič, received 8 years in prison.

The then leaders of the Democratic Front Andrija Mandić and Milan Knežević – 5 years each.

Two Russian citizens, Eduard Shishmakov (who took part in the operation under the name Shirokov) and Vladimir Popov (whose real surname, according to Bellingcat, is Moiseev) received 15 years and 12 years, respectively, in absentia. The international investigative group Bellingcat and The Insider publication claimed that the Russians involved in the case were from Russian military intelligence.

Accidental Coincidences

All the accused denied their guilt.

Eduard Shishmakov (Shirokov) and Vladimir Popov (Moiseev) also denied the accusations in their written testimony.

Shishmakov (Shyrokov) admitted that he knew Sindjelic, but enderlined that he met him only twice: in the spring of 2015 in Moscow at the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, to discuss “an interesting uniform of a Serb – a uniform of the Chetnik movement”. A year and a half later, in the second half of October 2016, according to the Russian, he was in Serbia “to write an article about the participation of the Danube Flotilla in the First World War and to collect information about the places where Russian soldiers are buried.” According to him, at a meeting with Sindjelic in Belgrade, he discussed “only the issue of the Serbian Chetniks Movement and the possibility of organizing meetings with their leaders.”

In turn, Popov (Moiseev) stated that he was in Serbia at the beginning or end of October 2016 at the invitation of the publishing house, and while he was “in Belgrade in one of the central parks,” literally by chance “witnessed the meeting of Eduard Shirokov with a stranger” (with Sindjelic).

Dikic insisted that then, in 2016, he came to Montenegro to the Ostrog monastery (of the Serbian Orthodox Church) because of health problems.

The Montenegrin opposition claimed that it was not a putsch, but a hoax organized by Đukanović‘s entourage to stay in power.

Waiting for a new verdict

The court verdict of May 9, 2019, never came into effect.

Following the results of the 2020 parliamentary elections, an opposition coalition, led by the Democratic Front, came to power in Montenegro.

On February 5, 2021, the Court of Appeal of Montenegro overturned the verdict of the first instance in the “coup plot” trial, as “significant violations of criminal procedure were committed.”

Later, the prosecutors handling the case were charged with violating the law (the charges were not related to the “coup d’etat” case) and were detained.

The new parliamentary elections only confirmed the success of the political forces that were previously part of the Democratic Front. Thus, one of the former leaders of the DF and a defendant in the case, Andrija Mandić, was elected the head of the Assembly (Parliament) of Montenegro.

It seemed that the story of 2016 about the attempt to overthrow Đukanović‘s government by force would be forgotten.

But no.

In April 2023, the retrial of the “coup d’état case” began. According to the prosecutor’s office, some wording has been changed, but not the legal qualification of the criminal acts, as well as the list of the accused and their punishments.

On July 12 of this year, the Court should announce a new verdict in the case. This decision can radically change the entire political situation in Montenegro, recognizing the most influential pro-Russian politicians as criminals. Or, on the contrary, nothing would change in the country, and then the country’s pro-Western, Euro-Atlantic course would lose.