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Alexander Pivovarenko

Ph.D. in History, Senior Research Associate, RAS Institute of Slavonic Studies, RIAC Expert

Montenegro’s position on the matter displays a certain duality. Since March 2014, the Montenegrin leadership has expressed its support of the sanctions imposed by the European Union on the Russian government and on individuals and organizations. On the other hand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration in the Government of Montenegro has not submitted a single document confirming its participation in the sanctions. The bilateral commission for trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation has continued its work. All in all, Russian–Montenegrin relations remain “good and friendly”.

Montenegro’s position on the matter displays a certain duality. Since March 2014, the Montenegrin leadership has expressed its support of the sanctions imposed by the European Union on the Russian government and on individuals and organizations. In the reports of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Montenegro (and Albania) are among the countries whose official position on the sanctions is “aligned” with that of the European Union. On the other hand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration in the Government of Montenegro has not submitted a single document confirming its participation in the sanctions. The bilateral commission for trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation has continued its work. All in all, Russian–Montenegrin relations remain “good and friendly”.    

This duality stems from the fact that Montenegro does not want to harm its own Euro-Atlantic prospects, nor does it want to encourage a public debate on the home front. In order to keep to these lines, the country needs to show that it is committed to the course set out by Brussels, refrain from criticizing Moscow’s policies and declare itself a prisoner of circumstance. Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration Igor Lukšić made himself perfectly clear on the matter at the EU–Montenegro Summit in December 2014. Podgorica is in a difficult situation, as “not a single country can benefit from the imposition of sanctions, especially because Montenegro has a long history of friendly relations with Russia and ties that go back centuries.” Montenegro remembers the period in the 1990s when it was under sanctions itself. This notwithstanding, “we can’t have our cake and eat it – our strategic priority is to become a full member of the European Union. President Filip Vujanović put it even more clearly: “Russia is a big country and Montenegro does not significantly influence global processes. Russia needs to understand that Montenegro wants to become a part of the European Union and NATO, but that does not mean that we are anti-Russia.”

All in all, Russian–Montenegrin relations remain “good and friendly”.

The response in the Russian press and among officials has been to accuse the Montenegrins of being ungrateful. They argue that ten years ago Montenegro was a beggar state, and it was Russian investments that helped put it back on its feet. Back then, the people of Montenegro talked about their Russian “brothers”, now they impose sanctions and negotiate with Washington and Brussels. But this is precisely the kind of pragmatism on which ideology-free foreign policy is built. Today we are partners, but tomorrow the situation could change. Podgorica’s position is pragmatic in the sense that, although much is said about the damage that the outflow of Russian money from tourism and real estate could do to the country, this has not happened yet. As for tourism, according to Statistical Office of Montenegro data, all performance indicators were up for 2014, and this trend continued through the first five months of 2015. The quiet life and moderate climate is as attractive as ever for many Russians, despite the diplomatic conflicts and financial circumstances. The recession has hit foreign trade, although the volume is so small (7.1 million euros in 2014) that it can be balanced out using other sources. Montenegrin officials are confident of this.

Podgorica’s position is pragmatic in the sense that, although much is said about the damage that the outflow of Russian money from tourism and real estate could do to the country, this has not happened yet.

Though economic implications are minimal, the whole situation makes you stop and think.  

The sanctions against Russia are being supported by a state that has over the course of centuries, during the most violent conflicts, always been an ally of Russia. It was largely out of gratitude towards Russia that tiny Montenegro declared war on Japan in 1904 (a peace treaty was only signed 102 years later). Many Montenegrins fought in the Russian army, just as Russians volunteered to fight in the Balkans. In its arguments Podgorica has recourse to the very same thesis that is often used by Russian diplomats: no matter how difficult the situation may be, this cannot erase the age-old ties between the people of Montenegro and Russia. Unfortunately, this does not help Russia. It turns out that Russia is the past and Europe is the future. On the other hand, if these ties are so strong, they will never disappear – much like the respectful relations between Slovakia and the Czech Republic never disappeared (or at least among certain members of those countries). The example of Montenegro is also important for its neighbour Serbia, which does not support the sanctions against Russia and talks about accession to the European Union while maintaining military neutrality. If Montenegro manages to accomplish its Euro-Atlantic ambitions, then the Serbian authorities may be forced to reassess their position.    

The sanctions against Russia are being supported by a state that has over the course of centuries, during the most violent conflicts, always been an ally of Russia.

In this regard, I would like to say a few words about the position of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is not entirely clear. On the one hand, the Ministry talks about NATO expansion as being wrong and provocative in nature. The Information and Press Department uses rather cutting language in its description of the situation (“profound disappointment”, “lured in by NATO”). But in a recent interview with the Montenegrin newspaper Dan (the interview can be found on the embassy’s official website),the Russian Ambassador to the country emphasized that joining NATO was a domestic issue that should be addressed internally. When asked about the consequences of joining the North Atlantic Alliance, he said “let’s wait and see what happens first”.

If Montenegro manages to accomplish its Euro-Atlantic ambitions, then the Serbian authorities may be forced to reassess their position.

The multiplicity of “messages” coming from the Russian side could be interpreted as a threat without consequences, which does not interfere with the chosen course. Of course, given the general tension on the continent, it is not in Moscow’s interests to create a new centre in a place where Russian presence of any kind will be placed under a magnifying glass. However, the absence of a certain degree of integrity will lead to taboos being lifted on the anti-Russian actions of regional governments, which will initially run counter to public opinion, but will eventually give rise either to conflict or to gradual change. The latter scenario is fraught with yet another reassessment of the role and place of Russia in the region.      

 

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  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
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