PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Montenegro's former prime minister has accused Russia of "destructive" politics in the Balkans following what the country says was a thwarted attempt to overthrow its pro-Western government.
Milo Djukanovic, who stepped down after the alleged pro-Russian plot in October to prevent the small Balkan country from joining NATO, said that Moscow "harnessed a lot of destructive material toward Montenegro."
Montenegro is now "in the line" of Moscow's attempts to expand its influence in the war-torn Balkans, and pro-Russian opposition parties are ready to use "bloodshed and a coup" to install a pro-Kremlin government, Djukanovic said late Monday while addressing his Socialist Democratic Party youth in the country's second-largest town of Niksic, ahead of local elections.
"A new, puppet government would only serve the interest of Moscow, which wants to send a message to Europe and NATO that they cannot expand in the Balkans without its consent," said Djukanovic, who brought the country to the threshold of NATO membership.
Russian officials have recently named Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro as Moscow's sphere of interest in the Balkans, saying they should not join NATO. The former Yugoslav republics were never part of the Soviet bloc and officially all of them want to join the European Union.
Speaking in neighboring Kosovo, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, voiced his concern "about ways that Russia has influence in the region that is not as helpful at times, particularly in the media with disinformation and political influence."
"The stability of the western Balkans is of critical importance for NATO because security and stability in this region is important to the security and stability of Europe, a Europe that's whole, free and at peace," he said.
Montenegro's prosecutors have accused Russia and its secret service operatives of plotting the election-day coup attempt that included alleged plans to kill Djukanovic and take over parliament. Some 20 people — including two Russians — have been accused of taking part.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied involvement in the plot. But it has openly supported nationalist parties and groups opposed to Montenegro's NATO membership.
Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.