May 29, 2017 / 2:35 PM / 3 months ago

Montenegro summons Russian ambassador, protests detention of politician

PODGORICA (Reuters) - Montenegro's foreign ministry summoned the Russian ambassador in Podgorica on Monday to protest over the brief detention of one of its parliamentary deputies at Moscow airport overnight.

The move could further sour relations between Podgorica and the Kremlin, which strongly opposed Montenegro becoming a member of NATO. It will join the military alliance next month.

Miodrag Vukovic, a prominent deputy from the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) was held overnight at Moscow's Domodedovo airport, the ministry said in a statement. Vukovic, who had been travelling to Minsk via Moscow, returned to Montenegro on Monday morning.

"(The protest note) singled out inappropriate behaviour by Russian officials ... during the unwarranted detention of Mr Vukovic," the statement said.

In 2014, Montenegro imposed sanctions against Russia, embracing European Union policies over Russia's annexation of Crimea in Ukraine. Moscow retaliated by adding Montenegro to the list of countries from which it was banning food imports.

Later on Monday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Vukovic was banned from entering the country as a response to Montenegrin sanctions.

"We have always said that we reserve the right to take retaliatory measures on the basis of reciprocity as is common in diplomatic practice," Zakharova said in remarks posted on ministry's Web site.

The Montenegrin protest note said Russian authorities took Vukovic's passport and he was not initially allowed to contact the Montenegrin embassy. Russian authorities also failed to allow a Montenegrin diplomat to make immediate contact with him at the airport, it said.

Ties between Montenegro, a candidate to join the EU, and Russia, previously its key Slavic and Orthodox Christian ally and a leading investor, worsened after the tiny Adriatic republic sought to join NATO.

Last year Montenegrin authorities said Russian spy agencies and local pro-Russian parties concocted a plot during October elections to halt Montenegro's NATO bid, assassinate the-then Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and bring an opposition figure to power. The Kremlin dismissed that as absurd.

Reporting by Petar Komnenic in Podgorica and Christian Lowe in Moscow; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Toby Chopra

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