Montenegro hails long-awaited Nato membership, turning its back on Russia

Montenegro hails long-awaited Nato membership, turning its back on Russia
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia June 5, 2017

Montenegro celebrated on June 5 its much-desired official accession to Nato, marking the completion of the first of its two top priorities – to become a member of Nato and to join the European Union. 

Accession to Nato has been priority for Montenegro’s long ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) since the tiny Adriatic country declared independence from Serbia in 2006. But Nato membership has cost the tiny Adriatic country its friendship with Russia, which has put a lot of effort into preventing Montenegro’s membership of the alliance as it diminishes Russia's influence in Southeast Europe.

At a ceremony at the US state department, Montenegro deposited its instrument of accession to Nato, formally triggering its membership in the alliance. Its accession protocol was ratified by Nato foreign ministers in May last year.

“Today Montenegro joins Nato with a seat at the table as an equal. With an equal voice in shaping our alliance and its independence guaranteed,” Nato’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said at a press conference after Montenegro deposited its instrument of accession.

Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said this was a historical day for his country. “A hundred years after we were wiped out of the political map of Europe and 11 years after gaining back our independence, today we become part of the strongest alliances in history. Today we celebrate the fact that no one will decide about us behind our backs,” Markovic said at the press conference.

When Montenegro received an invitation to join Nato in December 2015, it provoked a strong negative reaction from its former ally Russia with whom it has historically enjoyed close ties as well as investment. The Kremlin fiercely opposed Nato’s expansion into its traditional sphere of influence.

Due to his Euro-Atlantic aspirations, the former prime minister and leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, veteran politician Milo Djukanovic, allegedly became the target of a Russia-backed coup to seize power and assassinate Djukanovic after the October 16 general election last year. Although the Kremlin has repeatedly denied its involvement, it has been confirmed by UK and US security services.

After Montenegro's special prosecutor for organised crime, Milivoje Katnic, filed an indictment against the alleged two Russian perpetrators of the coup plot as well as nine Serbian citizens and one Montenegrin, anti- Montenegrin propaganda began to intensify in Russia in a bid to stop Russians holidaying in Montenegro – which was once such a popular destination for Russians that it was dubbed "Moscow on sea". 

Two weeks after the indictment, Russian officials warned citizens not to travel to Montenegro, claiming that the situation was "unfavourable" for them. Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zankina said in a statement that Russians could face arrest on “questionable charges” should they risk a visit. 

The situation escalated at the end of May, when Moscow decided to deport Miodrag Vukovic, an MP from the DPS, in response to Podgorica’s decision to join the sanctions against Moscow imposed by the European Union, according to Zankina. Montenegro has been part of the sanctions against Russia since the EU has imposed them, but until then Moscow had not retaliated. It had only banned imports of certain goods from the Adriatic country.

While for the politicians from the ruling party the accession to Nato was a huge achievement, it seems not to be that important to ordinary people. According to a Gallup poll released earlier this year, most Montenegrins do not care much about the country’s membership in the Nato alliance, with 29% seeing it as a threat and 21% seeing it as protection.