Montenegro is not a military threat whatsoever neither for Russia, nor for NATO. NATO has taken a major step toward enlargement by formally inviting the western Balkan nation of Montenegro to join the alliance. Valdai Club member Hans-Joachim Spanger explained the ramifications of this move for Russia-NATO relations.
On Tuesday, NATO invited Montenegro to join the alliance, a move condemned by Russia whose officials said the decision would be another blow to European security and NATO-Russia relations. "The continued eastward expansion of NATO and NATO's military infrastructure cannot but result in retaliatory actions from the east, i.e. from the Russian side, in terms of ensuring security and supporting the parity of interests," President Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
However, Valdai Club expert Hans-Joachim Spanger said in an exclusive interview that the move would not seriously affect security situation in the region due to Montenegro’s relative insignificance as a regional player. “Montenegro is a country with 600,000 inhabitants in an area which is already surrounded by NATO member states, except Serbia”, he said, adding that NATO troops were already deployed in the neighbouring Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Realistically speaking, if you are looking at the Russian predicament, Russia is not substantially affected,” Spanger said. “On the other hand, it is a political signal, no doubt about that."
Montenegro was part of Yugoslavia in 1999, when NATO carried out airstrikes to assist the secessionist movement in the predominantly Albanian-populated Kosovo. During the operation, Montenegro was bombed several times, resulting in several civilian deaths. The NATO bombings intensified the rift between Serbia and Montenegro which peacefully left the two countries’ federation in 2006. In December 2009, Montenegro was granted a Membership Action Plan, the final step in an application for membership in the organization.
The relations between Russia and Montenegro have remained friendly ever since, with economic ties playing an especially significant role. Spanger downplayed fears that the nation’s NATO accession could overturn the strategic balance in the region saying that Montenegro is not a military threat whatsoever neither for Russia, nor for NATO. However the EU membership, which Montenegro also aspires to, could seriously affect Russia’s economic interests in the country in the long run, he said. “But that is not about NATO, it’s about the European Union,” Spanger added. “And that’s not necessarily the same thing, although many in Russia think it has become the same.”
When asked if such countries as Georgia and Ukraine could become the next candidates to join NATO, Spanger said they were a completely different matter. “There are forces within NATO eager to get Georgia in the first place, and then Ukraine, into NATO, but there are equally forces opposed to that, like France and Germany. Since the principle of unanimity applies in NATO, I don’t see prospect for the time being for these two countries.”
Montenegro’s accession talks are expected to take about a year to complete. After that, the country must become the alliance’s 29th member state. The last time NATO accepted new members was in 2009 when Croatia and Albania joined the bloc.