The Montenegro government, headed by Dritan Abazovic, passed the Act on the Systemization of Posts in the National Security Agency internally.
According to Pobjeda, the secret service has been awarding job contracts to people employed by ANB Inspector General Artan Kurti, who oversees the service and is a confidant of outgoing Prime Minister Abazovic, the GeoPost reported.
According to sources from the National Security Agency, who remained in defense of the state’s interests after Russian and Serbian agents took over the Montenegrin secret service in December 2020, they purportedly are legalizing everything they have done in the service once they close their network of loyalists to the current executive of the head of the ruling URA party.
The agency was consolidated for a short time after the dismissal of Vukic in May 2021 and the appointment of Sava Kentera as director. Still, the outgoing Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic dismissed Kentera as the branches of two international inquiries in which the Montenegrin secret service took part led to people from Abazovic’s party.
Smuggling of cigarettes and links to the ruling party
The cross-border tobacco smuggling operation revealed that cigarette smuggling in Montenegro is state-controlled, with Rade Milosevic, a recent director of the Tax and Customs Administration and an official of the URA party, among those arrested.
It has reportedly been stated that another party official, Zoran Mikic, was implicated in the smuggling scheme and that Abazovic was aware of it all. Pobjeda published a document compiled by ANB operatives in collaboration with foreign intelligence services on December 24, last year, that details the state’s cigarette smuggling plan.
According to the operatives, cigarette smuggling is permitted by the Prime Minister, Dritan Abazovic, who uses a portion of the revenues from these activities for his purposes or those of the party he leads.
The Internal Act emphasizes that information on national cigarette smuggling is available to international partners working on the Anti-Cigarette Smuggling Plan with Montenegrin authorities, mainly the UK services.
The Special Public Prosecutor’s Office, led by Vladimir Novovic, is investigating to reveal the involvement of several individuals in the smuggling ring. For the time being, however, only Rade Milosevic, a crucial suspect suspected of direct participation in criminal activities, remains in detention.
There is no information on how the investigation into “state cigarette smuggling” is progressing.
Ties with the Kremlin
Simultaneously, Sava Kentera’s resignation ended rumors of ANB’s role in destroying the Russian spy network.
Although Prime Minister Abazovic stated in a telephone cabinet meeting that “some in the ANB did not inform him about the operation to crack down on state cigarette smuggling,” it is almost sure that the operation to dismantle the Russian agent network in Montenegro was one of the reasons for Kentera’s dismissal.
The National Security Agency, led by Kentera, presented essential data for the international inquiry. The Montenegrin Ministry of Interior decided to exclude 28 foreign nationals, predominantly Russians, from residing in Montenegro and entering the country.
Vladimir Bozovic, former Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia, and Bratislav Stoiljkovic, owner of Adria Management Services and Chairman of the Adria – Jadran media Board of Directors conglomerate, which includes TV Adria and Radio Jadran Boka, were among those denied entrance into Montenegro.
Arrests in Montenegro
On September 29, 2022, the Special Police Department arrested two Montenegrin citizens in the same operation, based on an order from the Special Public Prosecutor’s Office: retired Montenegrin diplomat Radomir Sekulovic and entrepreneur Vladimir Vlatko Belojevic. They were questioned and released.
Later, the Special State Prosecutor’s Office stated that they had filed a criminal complaint for illegally possessing weapons and were being probed for organizing a criminal organization and espionage.
There needs to be more information on whether the inquiry has established direct contacts between Sekulovic and Russian operatives in Montenegro.
Campaign against Russian agents in the Balkans
According to security sources, the goal of the international activity carried out in Montenegro by the Sava Kentera team was to disclose the significant sites utilized by Moscow to fight a hybrid war against Montenegro as a NATO member.
With their distinct Western orientations, the new leadership has persuaded international partners that, despite the challenges, action to sever Russian relations in Montenegrin institutions is feasible. According to a Western source, implementing the theory of “soft Russian power” entails activity on multiple levels.
It includes the target country’s institutions and the intelligence sector but also directs the actions of various non-governmental forces, governmental organizations, associations, Orthodox groups, and the pro-Russia media, which in Serbia is dominated by Vucic’s Belgrade as Moscow’s proxy.
However, it was discovered that dismantling the Russian-Serbian agency network was a slap in the face to both Belgrade and Moscow.
As a result, Abazovic’s decision to remove Sava Kenter from the top of the ANB can be understood as a reaction to the action to demolish the intelligence agency. The discovery of state cigarette smuggling and Rado Milosevic’s arrest were undoubtedly motivations for Dritan Abazovic to launch a “damage control” campaign.
This makes sense, given that the unraveling of the state cigarette smuggling led to those with ties to Abazovic’s URA party.
Connection with arrests in Slovenia
The arrest of Russian spies in Slovenia, according to Pobjeda, was part of a more significant attempt to expose the Russian espionage network in the Balkans and is part of the same international campaign that has been underway in Montenegro since August.
On January 30, Slovenian and various European media broke the news that “two foreign people suspected of spying for Russia had been found and arrested by the security services in Slovenia.”
In early February, the District Public Prosecutor’s Office in Ljubljana acknowledged that in December, based on a report by the intelligence services, an investigation procedure was initiated, in the framework of which two persons were detained on December 5 for “the offense of spying for Russian intelligence and the offense of certifying false content.”
An embargo was placed on notifications of the arrest of Russian agents in the interest of further inquiry.
Links to Russian spies ring
Both arrested individuals, whose identities have not been released, held third-country citizenship and passports and did not present themselves as Russian nationals. According to the Delo newspaper, one of those detained was an Argentine citizen.
According to the inquiry, the agents had previously rented office space for a real estate firm that functioned as a cover for their espionage activity in Slovenia.
Western intelligence officials allege that the uncovered espionage cell operated in Slovenia and collaborated extensively with other groups, mainly in southwestern Europe.
The arrest of Russian spies in Slovenia, according to Pobjeda, is part of a more significant attempt to expose the Russian espionage network in the Western Balkans and is part of the same multinational operation underway in Montenegro since August.