New evidence links the Kremlin to efforts to destabilize Montenegro and slow its path to NATO
Southeastern Europe is entering a period of renewed instability after almost two decades of relative tranquility. As I explained in a recent column, the disastrous wars that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991 solved some political problems but created others. And now the Balkans are at the precipice of renewed conflicts—in no small part due to Kremlin meddling.
The most direct target of malign Russian plotting has been Montenegro, the smallest republic to emerge from the wreckage of Yugoslavia. With less than three-quarters of a million people, tiny Montenegro possesses a stunning Adriatic coastline, an important geo-strategic position, and a political-cum-business elite that is vibrantly corrupt even by outrageous regional standards.
Montenegro began setting a more Western course for itself in 2006, when it separated peacefully from neighboring Serbia, finishing off the last vestiges of the failed Yugoslav federation. The little country is now on track to join NATO, having received a formal admission offer in late 2015, which will give the Atlantic Alliance control of the entire Adriatic coastline, while cutting Serbia off from the sea permanently.
Public opinion in Montenegro is split about joining NATO. While most opinion polls show a majority in favor, a strong minority remains opposed. This division is about more than the Atlantic Alliance and reflects the country’s complex identity. While three-quarters of Montenegro’s people are South Slavs who share a language and the Orthodox religion with big brother Serbia (there are also significant minorities of Albanians and Slavic Muslims), that majority is split between those who identify as Serbs and those who consider themselves Montenegrins.
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