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Russians Seek a Montenegro Reversal

Ruska Duma

Two members of Montenegro’s opposition Democratic Front (DF), which has boycotted sessions of the Montenegro Parliament to protest the country’s aims to join NATO, got support from some high officials in Russia’s Duma (lower house) on a recent trip to Moscow.

During their several-day visit to Moscow leaders of the Montenegrin opposition Democratic Front (DF) received support from the highest Russian officials for their anti-NATO campaign that they are leading in Montenegro for months. Montenegrin public condemned this move and questioned whether it is disputable to discuss Montenegrin internal issues with the representatives of the Russian parliament, while boycotting the parliament of their own country.

During their time in Moscow, the DF leaders, Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, met with Sergey Naryshkin and Sergei Zheleznyak, the speaker and the deputy speaker of the Duma. The dominant topic of the talks was Montenegro’s intention to join NATO. Moscow opposes NATO enlargement in this part of the Balkans, and asserts that the majority of Montenegrin citizens are against NATO. The opposition and the Russians want to subject the issue to a popular referendum.

Local media reported that the DF leaders promised that they would reverse Montenegro’s support of EU sanctions against Russia for its actions in Crimea and Ukraine when they come to power. Both Russian officials are named under the UN sanctions and Zheleznyak is known for his warning of genocide of Russians in Ukraine.

Mandic explained on Russian television why a referendum on this issue is necessary:

“To join the NATO without a referendum is a dangerous plan. This could create conflicts in Montenegro. We don’t want Montenegro to risk its future. We don’t want to create a powder keg from a peaceful country where there is still some kind of order and coexistence of the different communities.”

Naryshkin is the chairman of the board of directors of Channel One of Russian Television.

Andrey Shary
Andrey Shary

Some question the motives of the Russians. Andrey Shary, director of the RFE/RL’s Russian Service, says this visit by the DF delegation is part of the wider Russian strategy to gather pro-Putin political forces from other countries in support of Russia:

“Russia is setting up a network of so-called ‘Friends of Putin’, people who are ready to protect the Kremlin’s foreign policy concepts,” he said. “This diverse group includes people of various political views-- from radicals to leftists--from various countries.”

Shary adds that, although this visit has no political weight, it was used as propaganda in Moscow:

“It didn’t get much publicity, although the information was published by official networks and state agencies,” Shary said. “No one knows how much support Mandic’s political group actually has. And that’s not important. It is important that there is a strong force for better development of Russian-Montenegrin relations."

Moscow repeatedly calls for a referendum on the issue, believing a majority would vote no. According to Shary, Russia is trying to use propaganda to change Montenegrin decision.

The DF visit to Moscow and meetings with representatives of the Russian Duma came after the DF had boycotted the Montenegrin parliament and refused to discuss the issue with the local political entities.

DF officials, back in Montenegro, did not want to comment their visit to Moscow or say why they discussed internal political issues with members of the Russian parliament, while boycotting their own.

None of the Montenegrin institutions commented on this visit. Predrag Sekulic, representative of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) said that the visit of one Montenegrin opposition party will not have a major impact on Montenegro’s political situation:

“It seems a little frivolous that DF went to Russian Federation...I believe that the majority of Montenegrin citizens would agree that… the losers from Montenegro…and those who support those losers met there.”

Sekulic continued: “I believe [that]… will not leave a deeper mark when it comes to the political situation in Montenegro or when it comes to the relationship of the citizens of Montenegro to the European Union and to NATO. " One of the proposals of the representatives of Russian Duma reportedly was that Montenegro should be regulated according to a Swiss model of neutrality. Jelko Kacin, Slovenia’s ambassador to NATO commented to the newspaper “Pobjeda”that such a proposal is unusual because it would regulate—from outside--asovereign state and that it sounds “very Russian”.