Russians urged to stay away from soon to be Nato member Montenegro

Russians urged to stay away from soon to be Nato member Montenegro
By bne IntelliNews April 23, 2017

Officials from Russia’s foreign ministry and the Federal Agency for Tourism have warned Russian citizens against visiting Montenegro. The situation in the Balkan country is “unfavourable” for Russians, said a statement from foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who claimed Russians could face arrest on “questionable charges” should they risk a visit. 

The statement follows other examples of anti-Montenegrin propaganda in Russia. Previously, Moscow had sought to prevent Montenegro from joining Nato, but with almost all Nato members already having approved its membership, Moscow now seems to be trying to brand the country - where tourism is an important contribute to GDP - as unsafe. Around one quarter of tourists visiting Montenegro come from Russia. 

“A dramatic decline in bilateral relations provoked by Podgorica, the upcoming accession of Montenegro to Nato and the Montenegrin authorities’ decision to join all the EU sanctions against Russia provide the backdrop for an upsurge in anti-Russia hysteria,” Zakharova was quoted as saying in a reply to local journalist. 

“The general attitude to Russian business and Russians is becoming increasingly negative, and the ruling coalition is fostering a hostile attitude in Montenegrin society towards Russia and Russian citizens. In this situation, we cannot rule out the possibility of provocations, arrests of Russians on questionable charges and their extradition to other countries, primarily the US.”

Tensions between Podgorica and Moscow have been increasing since Montenegro set joining Nato and the European Union as its top priority. Last year, relations sharply worsened after Montenegro’s prosecution revealed a planned coup aimed at seizing power by force after the October 16 general election.

The investigation into the coup plot revealed it had been organised and financed by two Russians, of whom one is allegedly member of Russia’s security services. The two Russians have since been indicted alongside 12 others including two of the leaders of Montenegro’s opposition pro-Russian Democratic Front. This could have been the source of Zakharova's comment about possible arrests of Russian citizens, though it is not clear why she claimed Russian could be extradited to the US. 

Following the ministry spokeswomen's statement, the Russian government's tourist organisation also advised tour operators organising vacations in the Adriatic country to warn their clients about the potential risks.

"The safety of tourists should be a priority not only for the state, but also for the tourist industry. In the case of Montenegro, it does not only concern an unfriendly environment for Russian tourists, but also potential threats that citizens who consider the option of recreation in this country should take into account. We strongly recommend that tourists weigh the pros and cons and make a deliberate decision. We urge tour operators to inform our clients about the unfavourable situation in Montenegro for Russians," Oleg Safonov, head of the Federal Agency for Tourism, said in the statement.

However, the Association of tour operators in Russia (ATOR) also issued a press release, pointing out that Zakharova’s statement was not the official position of the ministry but a reply to a question.

“To recognise the country as an unsafe destination for tourists, Russian foreign ministry and the [the government tourist agency] Rosturizm must issue an official statement, which has not yet been issued,” ATOR said in the statement. It added that it was unclear for the moment whether the ministry would launch the official procedure for declaring Montenegro - traditionally a popular destination for Russian holidaymakers - an unsafe destination.

“At the moment, there is no such statement by the ministry of foreign affairs, as a competent authority, either on the official website of the ministry or on the official Twitter account of the ministry of foreign affairs,” the statement reads.

Others within Russia have also cast doubt on the ministry’s statement. Montenegrin public broadcaster RTCG quoted Irina Turina, spokeswoman for Russia’s Union of Tourist Industry, as saying that there have not been any signs that the local population is hostile towards Russians living in the Adriatic country.

Meanwhile, Nikolai Uljanov, editor in chief of Russian news agency Rosbalt, wrote in an editorial comment headlined “Patriotic Games: Montenegro - an insidious enemy” that the claims were a lie and that ordinary people in Montenegro love Russian tourists. “I think that these news broadcasts – “investigations” – were written by hands reporting to Kremlin,” Uljanov wrote in a strongly worded comment on Russian propaganda against Montenegro. 

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