Montenegro between NATO and Russia


  • Area: 13,812 km2
  • Population: 620,029 (2011 census)
  • GDP per capita: $6,373
  • Currency: Euro




February 2003:  The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is replaced by a looser state union of Serbia and Montenegro.

3 June 2006:  Montenegro’s parliament formally declares independence.

December 2006: Montenegro joins NATO’s trust-building program – Partnership for Peace (PfP).

December 2009: NATO invites Montenegro to join the Membership Action Plan.

2 December 2015: NATO invites Montenegro to start accession talks to join the Alliance, while encouraging further progress on reforms, especially in the area of the rule of law.

Montenegro actively supported the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2014 and continued support of the follow-up mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces.


Why should Montenegro join?

Military-wise, NATO has little to gain from a small member like Montenegro. However, some might argue that expansion is beneficial insofar as it fosters the consolidation of liberal reforms in Montenegro and therefore creates an ever more united, stable and secure Europe. Furthermore, Montenegro has made great efforts to fulfill the membership requirements.
The Alliance is committed to its so-called “open door” policy, which it regularly reconfirms. Montenegro is represented as a “test case” for this policy, especially following Russia’s provoking tactics in Crimea and Ukraine. And to the extent of any formal criteria for joining NATO, Montenegro seems to fit the bill. It is a democratic country, continues to make economic progress and has no territorial claims against neighbors.


Montenegro’s military expenditure(no data before independence) Source:

Its 2,000-man armed forces hardly qualify as a threat to Russia, whose border lies thousands of kilometers away with three countries in between. Further NATO expansion shouldn’t necessarily be either of surprise or provocation to Russia, which signed off to an unambiguous international agreement in an OSCE summit in 2010.

“We reaffirm the inherent right of each and every participating State to be free to choose or change its security arrangements, including treaties of alliance.”  



Why not?

Firstly, domestic opinion of Montenegro joining NATO is deeply split. The ruling coalition maintains a strong desire for Montenegro to become a NATO member state. However, the public appears to be less convinced.

Public pollsnato-montenegro

2009 (CATI): 40% against – 44% for

2014 (Ipsos): 42% against – 46% for




Following the announcement of Montenegro being invited to join NATO, several thousand supporters of pro-Russian opposition parties protested against Montenegro’s NATO membership, demanding a referendum over the issue.


“If the referendum is avoided and there is a bid to fraudulently pass the decision (on NATO membership) in parliament, Montenegro will be brought to the verge of a (civic) conflict,” Andrija Madic, the leader of pro-Russian opposition New Serb Democratic Party, told the crowd.

Source: “Thousands rally against Montenegro’s NATO membership”

NATO’s invitation to Montenegro of becoming the alliance’s twenty-ninth member has significance far beyond this Balkan country. Being largely Slavic and Orthodox, Montenegro has a history of close relations with Russia. The tiny Adriatic republic was allied with Serbia, a traditional Russian ally, until 2006 when it declared independence and launched a process of integration with NATO and the European Union. The new path has been strongly condemned by Russia. In the run-up to NATO’s invitation, Moscow has been accused of using bribery, fomenting unruly demonstrations in Montenegro, and warning that membership would constitute a provocation.

It can also be argued that NATO has little to win from Montenegro’s membership. The little country is not likely to contribute very much to crisis management or cooperative security. Although this may also have true of some other NATO members, further expansion continues to raise concerns on the alliance’s capability to fulfill its basic commitments.


Media overview:


Russian official sources were very critical of Montenegro being called to join NATO. It was seen as a provocation and could convey a negative impact on Montenegro – Russia relations.

“The invitation of Montenegro is purely a geopolitical move. It is just a piece of land where to set up a military base. If Montenegro finally joins NATO, relations with Russia inevitably will get worse.”

Source: “Authorities of Montenegro crave to join NATO, while the population – not.”

Several articles pointed to high public opposition and a manipulative move to avoid referendum.

“Joining NATO does not have public support. [Only] the authorities of Montenegro are advocating it.”

Source: “Nikolay Dolgachev: authorities of Montenegro won’t risk a referendum on joining NATO”.

The alternative news source portrayed the recent events less dramatically.

“It appears that Kremlin has been ready for this outcome, thus an official reaction did not follow and press-secretary of the president Dmitry Peskov was forced to confine with only: ‘let’s start with that the president has not yet presented his point of view’.”

Source: “Why Montenegro in NATO doesn’t please Russia.”

United States

American media emphasized NATO perspective in Montenegro’s path from the status of an enemy to a potential ally. The reversal of status was often recounted in the case of the 1999 NATO bombing of Montenegro and Serbia in response to the killing of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

The proposal of Montenegro membership in NATO was also portrayed as part of an increasing rift between NATO and Russia. Although opinion pieces stressed the drawn fury and threats from the Russian side, several articles also presented the potential for a renewed diplomatic dialogue with the Kremlin, including numerous quotations from Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicating that Russia would be open to discussions.

“There is a strong message from all allies that there is no contradiction between a strong defense, deterrence and political dialogue,” said Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO’s secretary-general. “The message is the opposite. As long as we are strong, as long as we provide deterrence, we can engage in political dialogue. That is the only way.”

Source: ”NATO Willing to Talk With Russia After Inviting Montenegro to Join Alliance”

The Secretary of State John Kerry referred to the country’s own free will to join the NATO and peaceful Europe, but the media pointed out that Montenegro is in fact deeply split in the decision. There were various articles covering the extensive anti-NATO/pro-Russia protests.


In this entire context, Russia is presented as having some strategic interests in the Western Balkans and maintaining close relations with Serbia. Some comparisons were drawn to 2008, when NATO offered membership to Ukraine. Lithuanian media speculated that the NATO expansion in the Western Balkans will irritate Russia and threaten stability in the Western Balkans.

Interestingly, there were no articles discussing Montenegro’s eligibility for the membership. The overarching tone was provoking in the sense that they were predicting a dangerous response from Russia.

The deeply divided society was mentioned in a few articles, but the protests in Podgorica were mentioned in a different light from that in Russian and American media. It was suggested that the protests had nothing to do with Russia and NATO’s membership, but simply with the disappointment in the government of Montenegrin society.


Contrarily to other countries’ media, Russia’s response was not seen as a priority. German media covered an array of topics and focused on Montenegro’s states of stability and democracy.

Spiegel portrays the invitation in the light of a confrontational course between NATO and Russia. It is argued that NATO wants to show to Russia that it does not accept threatening by third states. However, the invitation conflicts with NATO’s interest to have a political dialogue regarding the crisis in Syria.

“NATO cannot permit themselves a stony silence towards Moscow: without Russia, and talks with Russia, an adequate solution in Syria and in the fight against the terrorist militia “Islamic State” will not be achievable. And so, there will continuously be a double strategy by the NATO towards Russia: show strength, when necessary, talk when possible.”

Source: “Strength when necessary, talks when possible.”


Source: “Why is the US adding Montenegro to NATO?”

The admission of Croatia and Albania in 2009 was already about the abstract project “stabilization of the West Balkan” than about rewarding consolidated democracies. This is also the case for Montenegro. And this may come back to roost.”

Source: “Why it is a problem that Montenegro can become a NATO member.”

Estonia and Delfi portrayed the invitation as highly positive and influential for the stability of Europe. Several authorities stressed that Montenegro has well earned the invitation with great efforts to modernize and liberalize the country.

The general tone in ERR and Delfi disregarded the importance of Russia’s opinion and tried to show that Russia itself is too involved in other events to act on this so called provocation.

“The Kremlin does not plan to take official position in the near future on this topic. The priorities are simply different.” – the press spokesman for the President of Russia, Dmitry Peskov.

Source: “The Kremlin would react on Montenegro’s membership in NATO”

Postimees, however, published a much more dramatic article on Russia’s potential response and its extensive criticism on NATO. The head of Russian Duma Foreign Affairs committee, Pushkov, expressed his view that Montenegro was invited to join just to serve the American interests.

Another negative assessment from Postimees highlighted the anti-NATO protests with 2000-5000 people fighting to put the matter to a referendum.

“They bombed us for 70 days, how can we forgive them?” – said one of the protesters.

Source: “Thousands of people protested against NATO membership in Montenegro”

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