Montenegro probes Russians, Montenegrins on suspicion of spying

By Aleksandar Vasovic

BELGRADE (Reuters) -Montenegro said on Thursday it has launched an investigation into an unspecified number of espionage suspects and expelled six Russian diplomats over alleged violations of diplomatic norms.

Montenegro's Foreign Ministry tweeted that it ordered the diplomats to leave "due to activities in contravention of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and mutual respect and appreciation of the two countries."

Earlier in the day, the Podgorica-based daily Pobjeda reported that Montenegro's Agency for National Security (ANB) and the Special State Prosecutor's Office (SDT) had detained six Russian diplomats, 30 Russian nationals with temporary residence permits, and two Montenegrins on suspicion of espionage.

The Russian embassy did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

Vukas Radonjic, an SDT spokesman, told Reuters police raided several apartments seeking evidence of conspiracy and espionage.

"Following the request of the SDT and the court order, police are searching a number of apartments and other premises due to reasonable suspicion of conspiring to make a criminal enterprise and espionage," he said by phone.

Radonjic said that after the completion of the searches "it will be determined who will be charged and arrested". He did not specify how many suspects had been taken for questioning.

Also on Thursday, Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic said in a live broadcast of a cabinet session that an "international operation," with foreign partners and the state prosecutor's office, was underway to preserve the country's interests. He did not elaborate.

Montenegro, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member and candidate for European Union membership, has joined international sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. It has expelled Russian diplomats in the past.

In 2016, Montenegro accused Russian agents of involvement in a plot to bring the pro-Russian opposition to power, assassinate then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and halt the integration of the former Yugoslav republic into NATO.

Moscow has repeatedly dismissed such accusations as absurd. Montenegro joined the Western military alliance in 2017.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; editing by Mark Heinrich, Alex Richardson and Richard Chang)