Tensions Over Montenegro's NATO Bid


On February 14, Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic warned pro-Russian groups agitating for a referendum ahead of the country’s proposed ascension into NATO to stop opposing the country’s bid to join the alliance. Montenegro would be the twenty-ninth NATO member and is in the final stages of the membership application process.

Marko Milacic, the head of the Movement on Neutrality in Montenegro, claims that 84 percent of the country’s population supports a referendum on the issue, including 68 percent who are in favor of joining the alliance. According to Milacic, “any different form of decision-making would violate democratic principles and the will of the people.” Milacic further states that the government of Montenegro has hidden these numbers from public attention to avoid a referendum.

Milacic has proposed March 24 as the date of the referendum. The day holds symbolic meaning in the Balkan states as the anniversary of NATO’s bombing of Serbia and Montenegro to force a military withdrawal from Kosovo in 1999.

Markovic warned Russia and its allies to “keep their hands off Montenegro” on February 14. Tensions stem from the Kremlin’s opposition to its traditional ally’s attempt to join NATO. Moscow has actively supported NATO opposition groups in the tiny Balkan nation. Further complicating the matter are allegations that the Kremlin backed a coup attempt on election day in October against former-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. The two main objectives of the failed coup were to block Montenegro’s NATO bid and take control of the government. The Kremlin has denied any involvement.

Currently, 22 of the 28 members of NATO have ratified Montenegro’s bid. The United States stands as one of the six members yet to approve the addition. Ratification by the United States would encourage the other outstanding members to endorse the bid. NATO’s eastward expansion has led to tensions with Moscow in the past, and a Kremlin spokesman reiterated these concerns, saying, “The Russian attitude to the further eastward enlargement of NATO is well known: this attitude is negative.”