Nine years after independence, Montenegro receives invitation to join NATO

Montenegrin government favours accession · Opposition protests, calls for a referendum on the issue · Russia believes NATO enlargement will further complicate bilateral relations

Montenegro today received an invitation to join NATO, but divisions over its accession remain in the Balkan country. Besides, this new NATO enlargement is raising again criticism from the Russian government, which sees it as a "serious blow" to Euro-Atlantic security. On the contrary, deputy prime minister of Montenegro Igor Luksic says the invitation is a positive sign for the whole Western Balkans.

Montenegro's accession to the North Atlantic Alliance might become effective in 2016 or 2017 if the 28 current members finally approve it during next year's summit, scheduled to take place in Warsaw.

Montenegro will be joining NATO one decade after the former Yugoslav republic achieved independence, and 17 years after NATO raids left 8 civilians dead in Montenegro during the 1999 NATO-Yugoslavia war.

The Balkan nation will become the 13th former communist country to join NATO. The North Atlantic Alliance's eastern expansion started in 1999, when Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined it. Albania and Croatia, in 2009, were the last countries to become NATO members up today.

"Russia-NATO relations further complicated"

NATO's steady expansion eastwards is opposed by Russia, which perceives it as an attempt to drastically reduce its own area of influence in Eastern Europe and to gradually bring NATO's borders closer to Russia's.

Before NATO's 1999-2009 enlargement, only one Alliance member shared a land border with the Russian Federation (Norway). After the enlargement, another four NATO countries do so (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the last two bordering the Kaliningrad enclave).

Montenegro's accession to NATO "will become another serious blow" dealt by the North Atlantic Alliance "against the current system of Euro-Atlantic security." "Moreover, it can complicate the already complicated Russia-NATO relations still further," spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova said last week. Zakharova added that Montenegro's accession was "artificial," and recalled "Russia’s longtime friendly and spiritual ties with Montenegro’s people."

Within Montenegro itself, protests against president Milo Djukanovic have been ongoing since September. One of the reasons for the demonstrations -although not the only one- has been Djukanovic's NATO bid. Main opposition coalition Democratic Front is critical of the accession bid, and is asking the Montenegrin government to hold a referendum on the issue.

If it were held, the vote result could be very close, if a November opinion poll by CEDEM institute is to be believed. According to the survey, NATO support could reach 50.2% of the votes, while opposition could stand at 49.8%. Another CEDEM survey released in July showed how Montenegro's national groups were split on the issue, with Albanians and Bosniaks very favorable to NATO, Serbs mostly against it, and Montenegrins quite divided.

The CEDEM institute is supported by several Western governments and embassies, including that of the United States.

Keywords: geopolitics, NATO, Russia