Montenegro bans entry to 28 foreigners for ‘malign’ activity

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — A day after it expelled six Russian diplomats, NATO member Montenegro on Friday revoked residence permits and banned entry to 28 foreign citizens it accused of spreading “malign influence” in the interest of unidentified foreign services.

The move was part of “continued and coordinated” activities, the Interior Ministry said in a statement, offering no further detail. Media and officials said the group included a former ambassador to Montenegro of neighboring Serbia.

The six Russian diplomats were asked to leave the country over “breaches of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” the Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement on Twitter on Thursday. Russia in response closed down its consular services in Montenegro.

Also on Thursday police raided multiple locations as part of a spy ring investigation that the government said was prepared and coordinated with Montenegro’s international partners and aimed at protecting national security.

A member of NATO and a candidate country for membership in the European Union, Montenegro has joined Western sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine.

The small Balkan nation of some 620,000 people recently faced a massive cyberattack which officials said bore the hallmark of pro-Russian hackers and Russian security services.

Once a Slavic ally of Russia, Montenegro defied strong opposition from Moscow in 2017 to join NATO. Authorities also have convicted two Russian former military intelligence officers of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, designed at the time to thwart the country’s NATO bid.

Montenegro became independent in 2006 after splitting from its much larger neighbor Serbia. The country remains divided among those favoring pro-Western integration and the pro-Serbia and pro-Russia camps.

The ex-Serbian ambassador in Podgorica Vladimir Bozovic described the entry ban slapped on him as “shameful,” saying he would demand a reaction from Belgrade. Bozovic was declared persona non grata for meddling in Montenegro’s internal affairs in 2020, and asked to leave Montenegro but Serbia has not replaced him with a new diplomatic representative.

Some top Montenegrin officials have accused Serbia of continued attempts to maintain influence in the country following the 2006 separation and of promoting Russia’s interests in Montenegro.

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