Montenegro readies to join NATO alliance

Montenegro readies to join NATO alliance

Montenegro readies to join NATO alliance Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic did not mince his words when Russia last month announced a ban on imports from the Balkan country’s biggest winemaker.

“It is clear that the decision is in the context of [Montenegro’s] NATO membership,” he said, pointing out that Russian citizens had “lost an opportunity to consume the best wines.”

On May 25, Markovic will sit on the leaders’ table at a NATO summit in Brussels and a few days later, his country of 620,000 people should formally become the alliance’s 29th member.

The process has riled Moscow, which has long considered Montenegro’s predominantly Slavic Orthodox population to be within its sphere of influence. But the accession is expected to pass without the chaos that some had feared on the streets of the ex-Yugoslav republic, where NATO membership remains a divisive issue.

In 2015, news of Montenegro’s accession spurred sometimes violent protests in the capital Podgorica, organised by pro-Russian opposition parties.

Much of the skepticism stems from NATO’s bombing of Serbia and Montenegro in 1999. But after Montenegro declared independence from Serbia in 2006, closer ties with the West were hotly pursued by former premier Milo Djukanovic. 

Russian Senator Alexey Pushkov wrote on Twitter that the military value of Montenegro was “zero.” But according to Srdjan Vucetic of the Centre for International Policy Studies, “its political and strategic import is considerable.”

With Montenegro on board, NATO now controls all of the Adriatic coast. Its presence in Kosovo and Bosnia “indicates that the alliance remains ready to engage if armed conflicts were to recur,” in the Balkans, wrote Janusz Bugajski at the Center for European Policy Analysis, a U.S. think tank. Only Serbia and Macedonia keep their distance from NATO. 

After U.S. President Donald Trump last month signed off on Montenegro’s accession, Russia slammed the process as “deeply erroneous” and harming stability in the Balkans. But the pro-Russian opposition in Podgorica has been weakened by the indictment of its leaders, Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, over an alleged coup plot in October. Montenegrin officials asserted that “Russian state bodies” were involved in the attempted power grab that aimed to prevent NATO accession - by overthrowing and even assassinating Djukanovic.

Moscow’s wine blockade prevents Montenegrin exports worth an annual 1.7 million euros. This is nothing compared to the 450 million euros that make up Montenegro’s total foreign trade, most of which is with the European Union.