Did Moscow Plan to Assassinate the Prime Minister Of Serbia?

FILE - In this file photo taken May 24, 2016, Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic gestures during a press conference, in Belgrade, Serbia. Serbia's interior minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Vucic has been moved to a safe location after a large of cache of weapons including anti-tank rocket, hand grenades and sniper rifle ammunition was found Saturday Oct. 29, 2016, near his family home near Belgrade. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic, FILE)

Last week I posted about a Kremlin plot to stage a coup in the Grand Duchy of Fenwick Montenegro to keep a pro-EU party from coming to power. Now it appears that this was only part of the equation.

Serbian Premier Aleksandar Vucic is riding a tiger. His parliament is headed by a war criminal. His nation is, as it has been for centuries, pro-Russian. Vucic is a nationalist and has determined that the best path for a tiny nation like Serbia is to have good relations with everyone. Vucic was reelected earlier in the year and has made a valiant effort to keep Serbia from again being used as a pawn against the West by the Kremlin.

When the plot to carry out a coup in Montenegro was exposed, the leader of the plot was a retired Serbian general and about 20 Serbs were implicated in the plot. Vucic initially was underwhelmed.

Why, you may ask, would Russia care about Montenegro. Well, about 40% of the real estate in Montenegro is owned by Russian nationals. It has really sweet bank secrecy laws that attract large amounts of Russian cash from dubious sources. It offers a way of moving that cash into more legitimate banks in the West. And the prime minister designate has decided that his vision of Montenegro does no include being a vacation spa and cash laundering enterprise for the Russian mob.

The immediate reaction from Serbia was disbelief leavened with thinly-veiled contempt. Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic demanded he be shown proof of the plot, and many in Montenegro’s opposition, who are in large part made up of Montenegro’s Serbian minority, claimed that Prime Minister Milorad Djukanovic’s security services had ginned up a false flag operation in order to help cement his victory.

Two days later, Montenegro’s special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic, insisted that he would be happy to share the evidence that his investigators had gathered, and that an “unprecedented massacre” had been prevented by the arrests. More details of the plot were revealed: The plan was for several individuals to enter the parliamentary building in the capital, Podgorica, wearing uniforms of Montenegro’s elite security services, and subdue the guards inside. They would then open fire on unarmed opposition supporters gathering outside the parliament awaiting election results. Finally, they would kidnap the Prime Minister, and either declare the election invalid, or somehow hope to throw it to the opposition.

This past Monday, the Serbian PM held another presser. Looking shaken, Vucic confirmed that there had in fact been a plot to assassinate Djukanovic. Another set of special forces uniforms and €120,000 in cash had been found in Serbia, Vucic said, and several other Serbian nationals had been arrested. He added that no politicians, in either Serbia or Montenegro, were involved in the planning, but rather he vaguely gestured at “foreign services, both from the West and from the East”, and said that those that have been arrested would be dealt with.

On Thursday, another bombshell landed: the daily newspaper Danas, citing highly-placed sources in the government, reported that Serbia had secretly expelled several Russian citizens in connection with the Montenegro plot. Furthermore, the paper reported that the Serbs arrested earlier had in their possession several devices allowing for encrypted communication, as well as some unspecified sophisticated technology used to continuously track the location of Djukanovic. Some of the arrested Serbs had reportedly fought on the Russian side in Donbas, in Ukraine.

After an unscheduled visit by Russia’s Defense Minister, the men arrested in Servia were deported.

The plot thickened over the weekend:

Serbia’s prime minister said Sunday an investigation will determine whether a large cache of weapons found near his family house outside Belgrade was linked to a possible plan to attack him.

Aleksandar Vucic said a DNA analysis would show whether a trunk containing an anti-tank rocket launcher, hand grenades and sniper ammunition was left in a forest by “accident” or if it signifies something more sinister. He said that if no DNA samples are recovered, the weapons could be part of a hit job planned by professionals.

“This was not an assassination attempt,” Vucic told reporters. “Nobody touched me.”

Police said Vucic and his family members were evacuated from the house when the cache was discovered on Saturday.

Yeah, but the cache of weapons inside an automobile that had been armored at a bend in the road where anyone going to Vucic’s residence would have to slow down was worrisome enough to require him to be evacuated.

Russia is playing a very dangerous game in Eastern Europe. It is predicated on Putin’s belief that a) he’s the smartest guy in the room (Pro Tip: glib, clever, and vicious are not the same as intelligence) and b) absent American leadership the Europeans will not resist any single encroachment that he makes. The choices he makes are not government by geopolitics but by the same interplay you’d see in a mafia family. Putin has to provide the image of invincibility while providing increased earnings to his capos. If he looks vulnerable or he can’t deliver the business opportunities he’s a goner. In such an environment, you can see the potential for both fatal miscalculation by Putin and also for him to decide that a small war might be preferable to looking weak.