On 5 June 2017, Montenegro became the 29th NATO ally. That day it deposited its Instrument of Accession to the North Atlantic Treaty with the US State Department in Washington DC.
That solemn act finished the formal process that had started on 2 December 2015 when NATO foreign ministers invited Montenegro to begin its membership negotiations with the Alliance.
Montenegro’s NATO membership sends a strong signal that NATO’s door remains open. “Today, Montenegro joins NATO with a seat at the table as an equal, with an equal voice in shaping our Alliance, and its independence guaranteed”, said the NATO Secretary General. Mr. Stoltenberg also noted that NATO will benefit from Montenegro’s insight into the Western Balkans, “and the professionalism, bravery and dedication of its men and women in uniform”.
So, all’s well in Podgorica? No, not really. The reverberations caused by the failed coup d’état in October last year are still sorely felt in that tiny Adriatic country of 640,000 people.
The coup attempt was to take place on 16 October 2016, the day Montenegrin parliamentary elections were held. The aim of the plotters, according to the authorities, was to disguise as police officers, attack the parliament, and assassinate the then prime minister Milo Ðjukanović and derail Montenegro’s accession to NATO.
Mr. Milivoje Katnić, the special prosecutor established to investigate the election-day plot, told local television: “So far we have had evidence that Russian nationalist structures were behind the attempt, but now also that Russian state bodies were involved at a certain level.”
This claim has been hotly disputed by the Russians. Mr. Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, denied what he described as “unfounded accusations”, saying that they “have not been backed by a single fact.”
Be that as it may, it is a fact that the Montenegrins are split on their opinion on NATO membership. The political opposition is now gathering momentum and trying to arrange a public referendum this coming October to overturn the decision on membership. The government claims that much of this campaign is being financed by Russia or Montenegrin oligarchs close to Russia.
Meanwhile, Mr. Filip Vujanović, president of Montenegro, hailed the occasion in Washington, DC as “a great day for Montenegro”. The Russian reaction was less than enthusiastic: “Given the hostile line taken by Montenegro’s authorities, Russia reserves the right to take response measures on the basis of reciprocity”, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated. “As in physics, in politics for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Despite its small defence forces of just over 2,000 personnel, Montenegro has provided financial support to the Afghan security forces and takes part in the current training mission in Afghanistan. During the accession ceremony in Washington DC, Prime Minister Duško Marković told US Vice President Mike Pence that Montenegro aims to meet the NATO target of spending 2 percent of its GDP on defence by 2024.