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Russia Says It Won't Extradite Suspect In Montenegro Alleged Coup Attempt

Montenegrin police officers escort a one of several people suspected of planning a coup in Podgorica late last year. (file photo)

Russian authorities say they won’t hand over a Montenegrin man to his home country where he is suspected of involvement in an alleged coup attempt.

Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office said in a November 1 statement that it rejected a request by Montenegro’s Justice Ministry to extradite the person, whom it identified as Ananije Nikic, because he had earlier been given refugee status by Moscow.

Montenegro issued an arrest warrant for Nikic in February 2017. He was detained in Russia’s southern region of Rostov in April 2017 and held on extradition remand for several months.

Authorities in Montenegro say Serbian and Russian nationalists plotted to occupy parliament during the country's October 2016 parliamentary elections, assassinate then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, and install a pro-Russian leadership to halt Montenegro's bid to join NATO.

The Kremlin has denied claims that "Russian state bodies" were involved in the alleged plot.

Fourteen suspects in the case are currently on trial in Podgorica.

Over two days of court testimony ending on October 27, Aleksandar Sindjelic, a key witness in the trial, implicated a purported Russian secret-service agent in organizing the coup attempt aimed at blocking the Balkan country's NATO accession.

Sindjelic identified Eduard Shishmakov as a key organizer and financier of the alleged plot to overthrow the government during parliamentary elections in October 2016.

Prosecutors have argued during the trial that two Russian military intelligence operatives for the Kremlin, Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, organized and coordinated the coup attempt from neighboring Serbia.

In addition to the charges handed down to the 14 defendants of creating a criminal organization with the aim of undermining Montenegro's constitutional order, Shishmakov and Popov have also been charged with terrorism. The two are being tried in absentia.

Defense lawyers will get their chance to question Sindjelic when the trial resumes on November 7.

The defendants also include pro-Russian Democratic Front opposition lawmakers Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, nine citizens of Serbia, one other Montenegrin, and the two Russians.

Montenegro became NATO's 29th member on June 5, marking a historic turn toward the transatlantic alliance amid protests from Montenegro's political opposition and Russia, which has long opposed any further enlargement of the Western military alliance.

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