A serious scandal erupted in Montenegro. It turned out that the new head of the National Security Agency (NSA) of the country, Dejan Vuksic, during a parliamentary hearing, named two employees of this main Montenegrin special service, and also revealed the identities of two of their colleagues from the NATO special services and details of their secret operations. Presumably, they were engaged in “the activity of the Russian intelligence services in the country and the region.” The opposition demands the resignation of Vuksic, as well as bringing him to criminal responsibility for divulging state secrets. He has never worked in the special services before, and as a lawyer represented the interests of Russian clients in court.
Protect NATO data
“NATO’s overall approach is to focus on the need to protect our data, and we will work with all allies to comply with procedures and protect sensitive data,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg responded to reports that a data breach scandal erupted in Montenegro. about the employees of the special services. He noted that he would not comment on issues related to the work of intelligence in Montenegro. At the same time, he stressed that the bloc “has a verification procedure that applies to all allies, especially new members, so that those who have access to NATO’s confidential information are checked properly so that the data of the alliance is maximally protected.”
The scandal erupted in mid-March. Deputy Prime Minister Dritan Abazovich and the head of the country’s National Security Agency Dejan Vuksic were invited to the parliament for the hearings of the security committee. The fact is that Abazovich was suspected of having connections with a certain Stevan Simiyanovic, who pretended to be an American diplomat and was engaged in intelligence in Montenegro. The opposition demanded that the parliamentary committee question the deputy prime minister. It all took place behind closed doors.
Simiyanovich was detained in Niksic on suspicion of using a forged American diplomatic passport. He handed out business cards that indicated that he worked for the US Mission to the OSCE in Vienna. In Montenegro, a man tried to actively establish cooperation with representatives of the security sector who worked in the government. The US Embassy in Podgorica officially announced that he was an American citizen, but not an American diplomat at all. Subsequently, Simianovic was released and he left Montenegro without hindrance, moving to Serbia.
After the hearings, Abazovich said that, having communicated with the American, he did not betray the national interests of Montenegro and, in general, the story of his meeting with Stevan Simianovic was “greatly exaggerated”. “I met Simianovic just like many other people. He showed me a business card from the American embassy, - said the Deputy Prime Minister. “It never occurred to me that there was false information.” Presumably, Simiyanovic came to Montenegro with a representative of American Ballistics and offered to develop business in the country.
However, a new scandal erupted at the parliamentary hearing. Dejan Vuksic, testifying in the case of Abazovich and his contacts with Simianovic, provided the committee members with materials containing classified information – the names of two NSA officers and two of their NATO colleagues, as well as details of the covert operations they were involved in, in particular, they studied “the activity of the Russian special services in the region.” Other details were not specified.
The opposition reacted very harshly, suggesting that such a leak could have been done on purpose. So, the deputy from the Social Democratic Party Rashko Konevich most fiercely criticized the actions of Vuksic. “The director of the National Security Agency blatantly violated the law on classified information. This is a real scandal. He revealed the identities of the NATO intelligence community. This is unprecedented. Until now, this has not been the case in the work of special services and parliamentary oversight. Such an omission is unacceptable. This is a clear violation of the law, for which Vuksic should be held accountable, ”Konevich said. According to him, by transferring classified information, the head of the NSA violated the law on data secrecy. This, in turn, undermined the reputation of the National Security Agency and the credibility of its work.
One of the leaders of the Democratic Front, Nebojsa Medojevic, also agrees with him, saying that by disclosing classified information “received from the intelligence services of other NATO member states, Vuksic threatened national security and the secrecy of international operations.” “This scandalous and clearly deliberate step by Vuksic cannot be viewed as the fruit of ignorance and disorientation, it should be treated as a well-planned act of subversion with serious consequences for national security,” he summed up.
They tried to smooth over the conflict. Thus, the Deputy Prime Minister promised to talk to the head of the NSA, and the chairman of the parliamentary security committee Milan Knezhevich suggested that this was done by accident. The opposition does not share this attitude to what happened, believing that Vuksic should resign, and besides, he should be held accountable. According to the laws of the country, he could face up to 10 years in prison for divulging state secrets.
This scandal could seriously damage Montenegro’s reputation as a recent NATO member. In the North Atlantic alliance, questions arose about the appointment of Knezhevich as head of the parliamentary security committee and a member of the country’s National Security Council. As the leader of the Democratic Front, he is considered a pro-Serb and pro-Russian politician. The bloc also reacted ambiguously to the appointment of Dejan Vuksic to the post of head of the NSA. Prior to that, he worked as a lawyer and usually represented Russian clients in court. He was never associated with the special services, but he was actively involved in politics and represented the Democratic Front in the city of Kotor. This, by the way, is considered unacceptable for the director of the main Montenegrin secret service.
Three possible scenarios
At the end of December, after the parliamentary elections held in August, a new government was created in the country. For the first time in the past three decades, it was formed by the opposition, which won the elections and received 41 out of 81 deputy mandates. At the same time, the formerly ruling Democratic Party of Socialists received the largest fraction of 30 deputies in the current parliament. The Serbian Orthodox Church had a great influence on the formation of the new cabinet of ministers. Montenegrin Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic himself is very religious, and half of the ministers who became part of his government are also closely associated with the church.
At the same time, representatives of the two main forces of the victorious opposition, which jointly brought 37 deputies to parliament, did not receive portfolios in the new government – the Democratic Front, considered pro-Serb and pro-Russian, and the Democrats, supported by the United States. Milo Djukanovic of the Socialist Democratic Party, which is now in opposition, will remain president for the next couple of years.
Moscow and Podgorica perceive the loss of the presidential party in the parliamentary elections and the coming of the conditionally pro-Russian coalition to power differently, says Ekaterina Entina, an expert on the Balkans, associate professor at the Higher School of Economics, senior employee of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in an interview with Izvestia. “Russia believes that this is the completed phase of the modern political development of Montenegro and that in a year Djukanovic will be overthrown and Podgorica will be freer in its foreign policy orientation. The most interesting question is how premature such assessments are. Most likely, Djukanovic is unlikely to stay in power, although this is also a big question, ”the political scientist believes.
According to the Balkanist, there are several scenarios for the development of events in Montenegro in a year. The first is the most unlikely, but it cannot be discounted: everything remains as it is. “Djukanovic remains in power in one form or another. The second is the most probable: from the Montenegrin national group, of which Djukanovic is a prominent representative, an anti-Serb and by inertia now anti-Russian politician, the Americans and Brussels will try to bring some new stable figure to power within a year. Enormous efforts will be made, ”the expert believes.
Entina also names a third scenario that would be the most acceptable for Russia and would set the horizons for Moscow’s strategic cooperation with Podgorica.
“This is the option that Russia would like to see: the opposition, which has come to power, will be able to resist, overcome internal contradictions. The third scenario makes it more possible, to some extent, to return the warm relations between Moscow and Podgorica. In the Russian Federation, it is believed that the arrival of Krivokapich can ensure a quick rapprochement between the two countries, ”the political scientist noted, adding that several months have passed since the formation of the Cabinet of Ministers and the foreign policy line has not changed. The new prime minister is focused on solving internal problems, while the foreign policy agenda has remained intact. “It is difficult to expect any turns during the year. By the stabilization of the pro-Serb and pro-Russian moderate course, we will judge the strengthening of Krivokapich and his associates in the domestic political arena. Expecting a sharp pro-Russian tilt in conditions of zero initiative on the part of Moscow is at least strange,” Entina said.
In turn, Petr Iskanderov, senior researcher at the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, also notes that in recent years Montenegro has been in a state of permanent internal political crisis. “It is from this angle that it is necessary to consider all the conflicts taking place in this country. For decades Montenegro has been split between supporters of a pro-Western vector and supporters of strengthening relations with Serbia and Russia. As the practice of the last elections shows, representatives of both camps retain their positions either in the structures of the presidential power, or in the parliament, ”the expert said in a conversation with Izvestia.
The political scientist believes that the current scandal is a continuation of the political struggle. In his opinion, the matter will not go further than mutual accusations in the parliament and the structures of the special services. “This is a sluggish political unrest, but these accusations usually stand for nothing, this will not affect Montenegro’s relations with the EU and NATO, since they are well aware of what Montenegro is like and will simply close their eyes to all these moments, considering, that Podgorica is not such a priority partner for either the European Union or NATO, the expert explained. “By accepting Montenegro in 2018 into the North Atlantic Alliance, Brussels and Washington hoped to demonstrate their activity and show that NATO expansion is not blocked for other countries.”