Montenegro became NATO member despite Russia's tantrum: Lessons for Ukraine

Author : Yuriy Panchenko

Source : 112 Ukraine

June 5, Montenegro formally became the 29th member of NATO
23:12, 8 June 2017

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In a historic day of Montenegro's accession to NATO nothing even said in Podgorica that a few months ago there were large local anti-NATO protests in the city. Last year, Russia decided on a coup attempt in the Balkans in order to prevent NATO expansion.

But attempts to stop the expansion proved futile: in the evening of 5 June Montenegro formally became the 29th member of NATO. 8 years have passed since the last enlargement when Albania and Croatia entered the Alliance.

Without referendum

The first day of membership of Montenegro in NATO has not only passed without protest. In Podgorica, you would not see any social advertising at each billboard, like in Kyiv. You would not find any rallies in support of membership with pretentious speeches of politicians (most of which went to Washington to a special ceremony).

Related: Aim of Ukraine is to join NATO

Only a very rare anti-NATO signs in the streets indicate that the heated debate have ended recently.

Even the leading local newspaper decided that the official entering the NATO is not worth an important issue enough to occupy the whole front page. This is almost an everyday event. 

"The accession of Montenegro to NATO is a reality. So why should we oppose reality?" says Head of the Directorate for NATO Milica Kovačević.

Oppositional politicians, of course, tend to disagree. In particular, the two main pro-Russian forces - "Democratic Front" and the Socialist People's Party (both of them are in opposition) issued a joint statement of intent to challenge NATO membership in the Constitutional Court, since the entry procedure took place without a national referendum.

A member of the "DemFront" Milun Zohovych went further, comparing membership in NATO deal with the devil and promised that Montenegro will soon pay a high price for this step (not explained, however, as it was).

The argument about the lack of a referendum is quite popular among opponents of membership. Particularly among elderly Montenegrins.

Related: Russia hindered Balkan states joining NATO, - OCCRP

However, experts believe that Montenegro did not violate constitutional requirements. "The goal of Montenegro to gain membership in EU and NATO is directly written in the Constitution. That is leadership only served the direct request of the chief of the law. In addition, the "de facto referendum" took place. In recently parliamentary elections, the supporters of NATO membership have won," proves Ivan Vukovich, political science professor at Podgorica University.

Related: The striving of Ukraine to join NATO is threat for Russia security, - Peskov

So what actually is the number of opponents of Montenegro's membership in NATO?

Opponents and supporters of the Alliance have diametrically opposed assessment.

Russian Foreign Ministry has already repeatedly declare that majority of Montenegrins does not support the NATO membership. Ivan Vukovich instead believes that the number of supporters of membership still prevails.

"The protests, which took place last fall and winter, showed that opponents of membership have a very small base. Thus, there is a part of society that is cautiously looking at this membership in order to maintain good relations with Serbia and Russia, but they are not willing to fight against membership. Some young people having ultra antiglobalization views also opposed NATO membership. But they were not ready to go to the rally organized by pro-Russian forces," says Vukovich.

As a result, the analyst said, the backbone of NATO opponents are people who in 2006 voted against the independence of Montenegro.

Hand of Moscow

Milica Kovačević added that the anti-NATO propaganda has intensified three years ago. "Of course, we have no evidence that Moscow directly finances. However, activation of such propaganda coincided with the Crimean events. And the theme of Crimea was actively used. An idea has sounded that Ukraine and Montenegro are two countries, which are the most public opposition to NATO membership," she said.

Related: Ukraine’s membership with NATO is geopolitical necessity, - Yatsenyuk

According to the Washington Treaty, a country, which applies to join NATO, must meet three conditions: be a European country (US and Canada - the founders of the block, so they do not apply this requirement); take Alliance common practice for democratic values; its accession should make a contribution to the common Euro-Atlantic security.

From the last condition goes another argument, which is actively promoted in the country, Russian Foreign Ministry: Montenegro’s joining NATO will do nothing, because this country does not have a powerful army. So, by this logic, Montenegro does not meet NATO membership.

Supporters of the membership believe otherwise.

Anyway, for us the example of Montenegro is particularly important.

The small Balkan country demonstrated that Russia's influence is not unlimited. Those seeking NATO membership, are able to get it.

This thesis was voiced by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the official ceremony in Washington.

"We chose our right to a free life," said the Prime Minister of Montenegro Dusko Markovic.

"No one would decide our future instead of us and behind our back," he added.

Battle is not over

Anyway, the debate about the feasibility of entry now makes no sense. Montenegro has officially became part of the Alliance, NATO now has 29 members.

But is discussions about Montenegro and NATO is put to an end? Yes and no.

Yes - because the membership is reached. No - because this issue has reached the interstate dimension.

Related: New economic turn: US senators blackmailing Putin by tightening sanctions

In response to such "unfriendly step”, Russia has decided to start a trade war against Montenegro.

The same scenario happened to Ukraine. Russia found in Montenegrin wine found some very harmful substances. Later Russian Foreign Ministry has asked the local tour operators called for better explain the risks holiday in Montenegro. Russian tour operators have understood the hint and stopped selling tickets.

"This is Russia’s hystery, which felt that its impact was not enough to block the membership. For us it is good news," says independent politician Lubomir Filippovych.

However, we should not underestimate Russia. Russian protests have negative consequences for Montenegro, because two important sectors of the economy - tourism and winemaking got under attack. And Russia has no plans to stop.

June 5, Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement and threatened Montenegro with new measures in response to "anti-Russian hysteria". The only question is will this lead to correction of the state course?

"They said that NATO membership is a guarantee of the investments, like it was in Albania. But we get the opposite - membership has only worsened our economy," says an old man who calls himself a "Yugoslav nationalist" and an opponent of NATO. "The time we lived in Yugoslavia was the best, and do you know why? Because we did not enter into any blocs and were friends with everyone."

According to the man, the situation can be saved by the early elections. "Let people see what happened after membership and will revote," he adds.

Given that the next elections will be held in 2020, the scenario of early elections is the only way to change the course of Montenegro.

"The opposition demands early elections, but I do not think they can make a difference. Even if the current government loses, not all the opposition opposes NATO. Opponents of membership will not be able to collect most of their own," Milica Kovačević says.

Related: Montenegro officially becomes NATO member today

The diversity of the opposition prevented the anti-NATO performances in many cities, even where the opposition had the majority. "The opposition had too great a temptation to try to radicalise the situation in the cities where they have a majority in the city council. But nothing happened - because not all the opposition supports these slogans," adds Filippovych.

Interestingly, membership and supporters still believe that Russia will refuse a trade war.

"Russia will continue to obstruct the Western integration of Montenegro, but it will soon return to the old actions - through friendly political forces, conservative Serbian Orthodox Church. The trade pressure discredits the pro-Russian forces, so Moscow would soon cancel it," says Ivan Vukovich.

This optimism might be hopeless. Flywheel of the Russian propaganda is speeding up, and it is unlikely to stop, even if the pressure of the Russian Federation does not give immediate results.

Related: Russia threatens to react if NATO deploys forces in Europe


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