PREDRAG MILIC, AP
PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Two Russian citizens are among those suspected of involvement in an alleged election day plot in Montenegro to assassinate the country's prime minister and take power because of the government's NATO membership bid, prosecutors said Monday.
A prosecutors' spokeswoman confirmed media reports that 21 people are being investigated, including the two Russians and three Serbian citizens. She spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
About 20 people were arrested in Montenegro during the Oct. 16 general election, but some have since been released and new ones detained, including some who have fought for pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Montenegrin prosecutors have said the investigation leads to the conclusion that "nationalists from Russia" organized a criminal group that planned to break into Montenegro's parliament on election day, kill Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and bring a pro-Russia coalition to power.
Montenegrin media identified the two Russians who allegedly orchestrated the plot as members of the Russian military intelligence agency, GRU.
The two Russian operatives reportedly have been deported from neighboring Serbia after they monitored the prime minister's movements with sophisticated equipment which Serbian officials said is used only by top spying agencies.
Russian officials have denied any involvement in the alleged coup attempt. But Russian officials have openly supported Montenegrin opposition parties that are against the NATO membership bid.
Montenegro has been invited to join NATO despite strong opposition from its traditional Slavic ally Russia. With Montenegro joining, Russia would lose strategic access to the Adriatic Sea, and Serbia would remain its only ally in the region.
NATO officials said they expect Montenegro to become a member next spring after all 28 alliance member states ratify the agreement in their respective parliaments.
Associated Press writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.