A suspect in an alleged plot to assassinate pro-Western Montenegrin politician Milo Djukanovic has posted a photograph of himself standing near Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this week in Belgrade.
Nemanja Ristic, who is wanted in Montenegro for conspiracy to kill Djukanovic in an alleged foreign-organized coup attempt in October, posted the image on his Instagram account on December 13.
The photo shows Ristic standing just steps away from Lavrov at a ceremony at the Grave Of Liberators cemetery in the Serbian capital on December 12. Lavrov visited the cemetery, where a number of Soviet soldiers who died while liberating Belgrade during World War II are interred, at the start of a two-day official visit to Belgrade.
Ristic gave no information as to why he posted the image.
The three women with whom Lavrov is posing in the photograph are all members of the right-wing nationalist Serbian group Zavetnici (Patrons), which participated in a wreath-laying ceremony to honor the fallen Russian soldiers. One of the members of the group, Milica Djurdjevic, told RFE/RL’s Balkan Service reporter on the scene that Ristic is not a member of the group.
The presence of Ristic so near to Russia's top diplomat raises multiple questions, including how he entered the premises, which were tightly secured for Lavrov's visit.
It also raises questions about Belgrade's cooperation with a Montenegrin investigation into an alleged plot that involves two Russian citizens, more than 20 Serbian and Montenegrin citizens, and unidentified members of Montenegro's Russia-leaning main opposition party.
It is unclear whether Podgorica has issued an international arrest warrant for Ristic. Citing unidentified government sources, some Montenegrin media outlets have reported that such an order was issued, though this has not been officially confirmed.
Montenegro's chief prosecutor, Milivoje Katnic, accused Ristic last month of participating in the alleged coup attempt, saying that he recruited protesters who were to storm the parliament building during national elections on October 16 and announce the opposition Democratic Front (DF) as the victor.
Ristic is a well-known right-wing agitator in Serbia. The High Court in Belgrade last year ordered that he undergo psychiatric treatment in connection with death threats and threats of physical violence he has previously directed to the editor of independent Serbian news outlet B92 Veran Matic, to former U.S. Ambassador Michael Kirby, and Serbian prosecutor Zagorka Dolovac.
Montenegro's chief prosecutor named two Russian citizens, Eduard Sirokov and Vladimir Popov, as the suspected organizers of the alleged coup attempt in Podgorica. Katnic said the Russian citizens planned to hire a sharpshooter to assassinate Djukanovic, the head of the ruling pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), over his efforts to have Montenegro join NATO.
Montenegro's pro-Russian opposition parties have rejected the charges of a coup attempt. The leader of the DF, Milutin Dukanovic, has called the allegations part of a "contrived and fabricated" affair meant to frighten voters on the eve of the election into voting for the ruling party.
The prosecutor's office first announced it had foiled the alleged coup attempt on October 15, just hours before polls opened.
Moscow has said it had no official role in the alleged coup attempt.
"We, obviously, categorically deny the possibility of official involvement in arranging any illegal actions," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on November 7.
Montenegrin politics remain in turmoil since the election, in which the ruling DPS secured a large majority and has since formed a new government. Opposition parties are boycotting the parliament and all government institutions, claiming the government unfairly influenced the voting.
The pro-Russian parties began mounting a strong campaign last year to keep the country out of NATO, including street protests in the capital to demand Djukanovic's resignation in the run-up to NATO's announcement in December that it would start accession talks with Podgorica.
The most fervent pro-Russia opposition parties oppose NATO membership because many members are ethnic Serbs angry over NATO's bombing of Serbia in 1999. The bombardment forced the president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the time, Slobodan Milosevic, to halt operations by security forces that were driving hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, which was still part of rump Yugoslavia.