By Mansur Mirovalev, Milena Veselinovic and James Masters, CNN
Updated 1:18 PM ET, Wed February 22, 2017
Moscow (CNN)Russia hit back Wednesday over allegations it was involved in a failed coup in Montenegro and an attempt to assassinate the country’s former Prime Minister, describing the claims as damaging to relations between the two nations.
Montenegro’s chief special prosecutor has said that authorities believe Russian security services were involved in a plot to kill then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and overthrow the government in October.
Milivoje Katnic told a local TV station Sunday that Montenegro officials have evidence that Russia’s Federal Security Service was involved in the failed coup.
The allegations drew immediate denials from Moscow and further calls Wednesday for Montenegro to provide evidence to back up the allegations.
“Naturally, neither Montenegrin officials nor Western media are providing any evidences that could confirm these allegations,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters in a briefing.
“We are stating that this misinformation is aggravated by the ever-increasing number of publications while facts are absent. Meanwhile, the position of Russian officials is actually ignored.
“All this, of course, is inflicting serious damage on the Russian-Montenegrin relations.”
Tension over NATO
According to Katnic, the alleged plot was an attempt to stop Montenegro from joining NATO, which the country was formally invited to join in December 2015.
The move spurred threats from Russian officials, who are at odds with NATO over a multitude of issues.
“Behind these events are nationalist structures from Russia, but we now know that certain Russian state authorities were involved also on a certain level,” Katnic said.
Becoming an official member of NATO would be significant for Montenegro because, under the alliance’s charter, any attack on the country would be seen as an attack on all NATO members.
The ratification process for Montenegro to join the alliance is in its final stages, according to NATO.
Katnic said the alleged mastermind behind the failed coup was a man named Eduard Sismakov, a former deputy Russian military attaché in Poland. Sismakov was deported to Russia for espionage in 2014, according to the prosecutor.
Katnic said Sismakov is also known as Eduard Shirokov, and Russian authorities issued a passport to him with the different name.
“The passport was given to him by certain Russian state bodies under another name, and he is a member of the Russian military structures,” Katnic said. “And his name is Eduard Sismakov, that is his personal identity and we will charge him under that personal identity.”
Katnic added: “It is clear that the passport could not have been issued under another name as well as everything else — sending to Serbia, organizing everything — without the involvement of certain structures. It’s up to the Russian authorities to investigate which structures and to initiate the criminal procedure.”
Asked if he believes this would happen, the prosecutor said: “I certainly believe in the Russian state.”
The Interpol Red Notice says Sismakov — listed under the name Eduard Shirokov — prepared acts against the constitutional order and security of Montenegro. The notice is an international database of suspects shared with other law enforcement agencies.
Sismakov’s country of birth is listed as Russia.
Katnic said another alleged plotter is Vladimir Popov. Popov, who is of Russian origin, is also wanted concerning the same acts, according to the Interpol Red Notice
Katnic added that another alleged plotter, Nemanja Ristic, was involved in the coup attempt, and Ristic has said he was connected to Russia’s Federal Security Service. His task was to recruit a team to send to Montenegro to execute the coup, Katnic said.
Ristic is wanted by Montenegro over attempted terrorism allegations, according to Interpol.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that Russia has not interfered in Montenegro’s internal affairs.
“Day after day, we are faced with absurd accusations about Russia. Day after day we deny these accusations. We say absolutely that there cannot be talk about the official involvement of Moscow in the internal events in Montenegro,” Peskov said during a conference call with journalists.
“Russia does not get involved and will not get involved, especially in such countries as Montenegro with which we have a very good relationship.”