By Natalia Zaba and Dusica Tomovic
A Russian suspected by Montenegro of masterminding the recent alleged coup attempt was a military officer who was expelled from Poland amid an espionage scandal in 2014, a Polish diplomat told BIRN.
The Polish ambassador to Podgorica, Irena Tatarzynska, told BIRN that Russian military officer Eduard Shishmakov, one of the leading suspects in the alleged coup plot in Montenegro, was thrown out of Poland due to a spying accusation.
Tatarzynska said Shishmakov was a deputy military attache at Russia’s embassy in Warsaw, but was declared persona non grata in Poland in June 2014, along with three other Russian citizens, because it was believed that they were involved in spying.
“For us [in Poland] it was a really unpleasant case, a deputy military attache was declared persona non grata. But for the Polish state, this case is over,” Tatarzynska said.
“Now we have been informed that the same person was engaged with the alleged coup,” she added.
But she said that until the results of the coup plot investigation were made public, it was too early for further comment.
Shishmakov was expelled from Poland after weekly news magazine Wprost June 2014 published transcripts of illegally-recorded conversations between top Polish officials including interior minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz, National Bank chairman Marek Belka, foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski and finance minister Jacek Rostowski.
As a result of the scandal, nine top Polish officials including Rostowski and Sikorski resigned, while Poland expelled four Russian diplomats. Two Poles are also facing trial for allegedly spying for Russia.
Polish media speculated at the time that Shishmakov was a spy but Russian officials denied this. Moscow also threw out four Polish officials in retaliation.
Montenegro’s chief prosecutor Milivoje Katnic on Sunday accused Russia of orchestrating an attempted coup on October 16 in Montenegro in a bid to overthrow Podgorica’s pro-Western government and stop the Balkan country from joining NATO.
According to Katnic, the head of the group that was plotting the coup was Russian citizen Edward Shirokov.
Katnic said Shirokov’s real name was Edward Shishmakov, however.
“In 2014, Shishmakov was a deputy military attache at the Russian embassy in Poland, but got expelled because of espionage for Russia as a persona non grata,” Katnic said.
He said that Shishmakov was a member of the Russian security services and had been given a new passport under the name Shirokov.
Sky News on Monday published photos of two passports with the names Eduard Shishmakov and Eduard Shirokov, saying they were the same man. Both passports show the same birth date and have an almost identical photograph.
Sky News also claimed that Western intelligence sources have proof that Shirokov was an officer of the GRU, the Russian foreign military intelligence agency.
Moscow has rejected allegations of involvement in a coup plot in Montenegro, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying the claims were “absurd” because Russia did not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also a report in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper which claimed that the Kremlin had a direct hand in a plot to kill Montenegro’s former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and stop the country from joining NATO.
He said the allegation was on a par with claims that Russia’s secret services had links to President Donald Trump’s administration and that Russian hackers had targeted the West and interfered in election campaigns.
“We haven’t been presented with a single fact, out of all these false allegations,” Lavrov said.
Montenegro’s anti-NATO opposition has also continued to claim that the pro-Western government formerly led by Djukanovic faked the coup plot to discredit it.
Two MPs from the pro-Russian opposition alliance, the Democratic Front, Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, who are also suspects in the coup case, were questioned on Monday.
Mandic and Knezevic, however, accuse the prosecution of working in favour of Djukanovic’s ruling Democratic Party of Socialists.