PODGORICA, Montenegro – Montenegro's special prosecutor indicted two Russians and 12 other people Thursday for allegedly plotting a coup that included plans to kill the country's former prime minister.
A high court in the capital of Podgorica said the 14 defendants — among them the Russians and two top opposition leaders — were charged with "creating a criminal organization."
The Russians, said by the prosecutor to be Kremlin military secret service operatives, additionally were charged with "terrorism."
The court has 15 days to decide whether to accept or reject the indictments.
Montenegrin authorities said they thwarted an October election day attempt by Serb and Russian nationalists to take over parliament, assassinate then-prime minister Milo Djukanovic and install pro-Russian leadership to prevent Montenegro from joining NATO.
The Russians, identified as Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, allegedly coordinated the operation from neighboring Serbia.
They were allowed to return to Russia despite acknowledgment by Serbian officials that they operated from Serbia with encrypted mobile phones, and are at large.
Andrija Mandic, one of the two indicted Montenegrin opposition leaders, on Thursday said the charges were part of "a staged political process against the opposition."
"We didn't take part in any criminal deeds," Mandic said.
Russia, which is strongly against NATO's expansion in Europe, has repeatedly denied involvement in the alleged coup attempt. But it openly supported groups in Montenegro that oppose the small Balkan country joining the Western military alliance.
NATO invited Montenegro — a traditional Russian ally — to join as its 29th member in December 2015.
The U.S. Senate backed Montenegro's accession last month, a message that the U.S. will push back against Russian efforts to increase its influence in Europe. President Donald Trump signed the ratification earlier this week.
"Involving Montenegro into NATO is profoundly erroneous, disagrees with fundamental interests of people in that country, and damages stability in the Balkans and in Europe as a whole," the Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.