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Two Russian Agents Sentenced for Montenegrin Coup Plot

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Police officers guard the entrance to the court during the verdict phase of the 2016 failed coup trial, in Podgorica, Montenegro, May 9, 2019.

A judge in Montenegro on Thursday sentenced 13 people, including two Russian intelligence officers, for a failed 2016 plot to assassinate the prime minister and put in a pro-Russian government.

Judge Suzana Mugosa said the coup plotters wanted to "violently overthrow" the government and "prevent Montenegro from joining NATO."

The two intelligence Russian agents, Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, were sentenced in absentia and given 12- and 15-year prison terms.

Interpol has an arrest warrant out for Popov.

Two pro-Russian Montenegrin opposition leaders, Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, were each given five years behind bars for their part in the failed coup.

Mandic called the verdict a "complete farce" and Knezevic complained that the judge had no evidence against their opposition party. Both said they planned to appeal.

Others getting jail terms Thursday included the former commander of an elite Serbian police unit, Bratislav Dikic.

Prosecutors said the suspects aimed to carry out their plan on Montenegrin election day in October 2016. They allegedly hoped to seize the parliament and kill Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who was elected president last year.

A key witness for the prosecution later told Serbian television that the defendants had no intention to violently topple the government, but only wanted to stage a pro-opposition rally.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said Thursday that the prison terms were "a clear victory for the rule of law, laying bare Russia's brazen attempt to undermine the sovereignty of an independent European nation."

Moscow called the accusation that it was involved in the plot "absurd."

Montenegro joined NATO in 2017 and is also negotiating European Union membership.

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