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PODGORICA, Montenegro – 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 were ready to use "bloodshed and a coup" to come to install a pro-Kremlin government, Djukanovic said late Monday while addressing his Socialist Democratic Party youth in the second-largest town of Niksic ahead of local elections.
"A new, puppet government would only serve Moscow's interests, which wants to send a message to Europe and NATO that they cannot expand in the Balkans without their (Moscow's) 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.
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.
This version corrects headline to read PM instead of FM.