Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has denounced allegations that Moscow was behind a failed plot to assassinate Montenegro's prime minister and overthrow his pro-Western government -- saying the claims are "unsubstantiated."
Lavrov on February 20 also dismissed a British media report claiming U.K. intelligence agents have concluded Moscow had given its "support and blessing" to a plot in October to assassinate then-Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic in order to undermine Podgorica's bid for NATO membership.
Lavrov said the reports were "far-fetched."
He said the British media had "more than once hyped scenarios out of thin air, such as the [Aleksandr] Litvinenko issue," referring to the former KGB officer and critic of President Vladimir Putin who was assassinated with radioactive poison in London in 2006.
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov on February 20 called the reports "irresponsible" and said they were not supported by "concrete facts."
But Montenegrin special prosecutor Milivoje Katric told Montenegrin television on February 20 that "Russian state bodies were involved at a certain level."
Katric said one of the men arrested in the plot, Russian citizen Eduard Shishmakov, was a Russian secret service operative who once served as deputy military attache to Poland.
The Russian Embassy in Podgorica said it had received no official inquiries regarding the accusations.
London's Sunday Telegraph on February 19 quoted British government sources who said "the planned coup was one of the most blatant recent examples of an increasingly aggressive campaign of interference in Western affairs."
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also reportedly discussed the issue on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bonn, Germany, on February 15.
About 20 people -- including Shishmakov, another Russian citizen, and many pro-Russia citizens of Serbia -- were arrested by Montenegrin police in October in connection with the alleged plot.
Montenegrin authorities have also blamed Moscow.
On February 15, Montenegro's parliament stripped two leaders of the pro-Russia opposition Democratic Front party of their parliamentary immunity over suspicions that they were involved.
But Montenegro's State Prosecutor Ivica Stankovic issued a special order later on February 15 that overruled an arrest warrant issued for the two pro-Russia opposition leaders -- Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic.
In an order widely seen as an attempt to ease tensions in the deeply divided country, Stankovic said Mandic and Knezevic do not need to be jailed as suspects.
Earlier, special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic had issued the arrest warrant against Mandic and Knezevic for alleged "acts against the constitutional order and security of Montenegro."