Translated by the Public Relations Service of the Government of Montenegro
Membership in NATO is claimed to be Montenegro’s strategic goal. Montenegro has got the invitation. When can we expect the full-fledged membership in the Alliance?
Yes, it is a great success for Montenegro and a recognition for the reform process it has been implementing. It is also an important step towards strengthening regional, but also European and global stability. It would enhance Montenegro’s path towards membership in the European Union.
These days we are expecting a formal invitation and beginning of the accession process procedure for membership in the Alliance. The signing of the protocol on Montenegro’s accession to NATO will be followed by the ratification process in NATO member states according to their national procedures. Montenegro will participate in all NATO activities as an observer country without a right to vote until it becomes a full-fledged member of the Alliance.
How the decision regarding this issue is going to be made? The opposition demands a referendum, claiming that the people of Montenegro should decide upon this important issue.
According to the Constitution of Montenegro, the country has no obligation to hold a referendum on membership in NATO. The Parliament of Montenegro has a mandate to decide upon this issue. This is also a common practice in the Alliance. During more than six decades of NATO’s existence, only three member states held a referendum. One of them is Hungary, because the Constitution demands holding a referendum. Slovenia was the second one, and it did it simultaneously with the referendum on the EU membership. The third one was Spain. Surprisingly, the country held a referendum after it had already become a NATO member state. Namely, the socialists were criticising the Government when the country join NATO and they made a promise to hold a referendum once they come to power and withdraw from the Alliance. However, when they came to power, they realised that being a NATO member is a good thing and they only organised a referendum to confirm their membership in the Alliance.
When it comes to Montenegro, the next regular parliamentary elections will be a true indicator of the citizens’ attitude towards membership in the Alliance. If the parties that are against membership in the Alliance win the elections, there will be no majority support in the Parliament for joining NATO.
What about the public opinion in Montenegro at this moment?
All opinion polls show the growing support for NATO membership. Two of three citizens of Montenegro are convinced that our country will become a NATO member.In a long run, those beliefs are stable. From March to November this year, the number of citizens who would vote for joining the Alliance in a referendum increased by one third (55 000). At the same time, the number of NATO oponents declined by approximately 82 000. In March 2015, the number of citizens supporting membership in NATO amounted to 165 000, 190 000 in August and 220 000 in November.
However, have you managed to answer the main question during the campaign: Why does Montenegro need membership in NATO?
The trend of growing support for NATO membership proves that we have managed to answer that question. Or at least we are on the right track to do so. Indeed, there are a lot of arguments in favour of joining the Alliance. If we leave emotions and tradition, often used by one part of Montenegro’s population, aside, there are almost no good arguments against joining NATO. However, emotions are not the best ally in politics, and tradition should testify more convicingly to the correctness than in the case of Montenegro and the Balkans as a whole. This is about the future, not the past. This is a logical choice for Montenegro as a tiny country in the Balkans surrounded by NATO member states. Furthermore, it is the most efficient and realistic mechanism for ensuring our security. The experiences of all NATO member states show the increased influx of investments after having joined the Alliance. That is a very important indicator for the Montenegrin economy. Having in mind that we are a tourist destination, stability is also of great importance for the country. We should not forget regional and wider context of Montenegro’s membership in NATO and our citizens are very well aware of that.
Montenegro’s aspirations to join NATO have provoked a negative reaction of Russia. What about that?
Basically, Moscow was aware of this goal from the very first day of Montenegro’s independance, just as we have always known that Russia is against NATO enlargement.
If Montenegro’s NATO accession process had been launched few years ago I’m sure that we would not have had this kind of reactions from Russia we have nowadays. What is that telling you? Unfortunately, we have witnessed deterioration of relations between Russia and the Alliance, as well as between Russia and the EU. Evidently, it has also affected the relations between Montenegro and Russia. However, I believe that it won’t be long untill our relations go back to normal.
Let me remind you of the fact that Russia did not welcomed the establishment of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro with enthusiasm nor the possibility of the dissolution of the state. However, Moscow was consistent in addressing that issue and willing to accept democratic will of the citizens. That’s what happened. We will certainly not forget Russia’s very positive role in that process and the fact that it was one of the first countries to recognise Montenegro’s restored independence in 2006. I do not see any serious reason for not having the same attitude in this case too.
Your statements about Russia’s role in the recent protests in Podgorica have been regarded very negatively in Moscow. Would you explain what you had in mind?
Only what is visible to the naked eye on a daily basis – the continuous support for the Montenegrin opposition pledged by a part of the Russian state media, some politicians, MPs, various institutes boasting with their connections with the Kremlin, which no one has ever denied. Furthermore, the overt support for the protests aimed at destabilising the legal institutions of the state and overthrowing the democratically elected government in a revolutionary way. For many reasons, Montenegro would have never expected Russia to do such a thing.
Since the relations between Russia and NATO are today at a low level, Moscow perceives Montenegro’s accession as an anti-Russian step. Is that so?
No. Our membership in NATO is not directed against anyone, including Russia. We do not have any reason not to preserve historically close relations with Moscow.
Does anyone actually think that Russia has no friends in NATO? I do not want to name those countries, as I do not want those not mentioned to feel neglected.
The real question is not why Montenegro should join NATO, but why Russia or anyone else would be bothered with the fact? And why should any other country, especially the historically friendly one, be bothered with our ambition to freely choose our future?
Is there going to be any changes for the Russian tourists, several hundreds of thousands of them who visit Montenegro every year? Will Montenegro introduce visas to Russians?
Let me reiterate, one of the reasons we join NATO is greater stability not only for the citizens of Montenegro, but for foreign investors and tourists as well. Our goal is to have even more Russian tourists in Montenegro. Do Russian tourists mind going to NATO member states, such as Spain, Italy, France, Greece,..? Albania, which is in our neighborhood, meanwhile, has become a member of NATO, and Russian tourists still go there without visas. Why should it be different in Montenegro? Russian citizens are well aware that on the basis of property they own in our country, they have the right to be granted temporary stay. They are also familiar with the fact that foreigners in Montenegro have the right to purchase land and that Montenegro is an attractive destination for Russians not only because of historical ties…
Are the problems discussed by representatives of the Russian business realistic? The KAP Aluminium Smelter, for instance.
Unfortunately, there are no ideal economies that are without problems, especially in times of long-lasting crisis. Our Government treats the Russian investors the same way it treats everyone else. We pledge our best efforts to attract more foreign investors. Our opposition, enjoying regular support from certain circles in Moscow, has criticised us for the presence of Russian investors in Montenegro, in particular regarding the KAP, which you mentioned. To this day, the government has been accused of having allowed that privatisation. The problems surrounding the KAP came as a result of the situation on the global aluminum market, as well as a result of errors and weaknesses of the management. I do not know if the Russian public or other Russian investors are familiar with the fact that the (Montenegrin) government, based on the 2010 contract, had allocated around EUR 300 million to the KAP, of which EUR135 million were state guarantee that were due for redemption in 2013. On the basis of subsidies for electricity, the government helped the KAP with around EUR 60 million. This issue is now before the competent courts, and I think it makes no sense to comment on it in detail.
Don’t you think that the participation of the Russian Novatek and Italian-based Eni in oil and gas exploration in the Montenegrin coast speaks volume about our attitude towards the Russian investors?
Montenegro still joined EU sanctions against Russia.
Once Montenegro set EU and NATO accession as strategic objectives of its state policy, it became committed to respecting the rules of these communities. Montenegro is a country in the late phase of the accession negotiations for EU membership. For years, we have had one hundred percent compliance with the EU when it comes to matters of common foreign and security policy. It is about the respect for the principles and rules we have endorsed, rather than about imposing sanctions to Russia.
All seem to have forgotten, even in Russia, that Russia acted the same way against Serbia and Montenegro, which formed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1990s. No one blamed Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, for not having used the veto and prevented UN sanctions. We have never said – it could have, but it did not use that right. All these things did not spoil our relations, and I am hopeful that this reversed situation will not determine the future of our relations.
I’m going to ask you a final question. Do critical publications in the Russian media and statements by Russian politicians about Montenegro and you personally bother you?
Yes, they bother me, because they are unfounded and arbitrary. One claiming not to be bothered with his kind of things do not tell the truth. But since I have been in politics for long time, which has been strikingly emphasised in reactions from Russia lately, I got used to compliments and criticisms at home and abroad. I hold to the principles and direction that I believe are right for our people and our country. I well remember the friendly advice of President Putin ahead of the referendum in Montenegro – if you are convinced of this, then take responsibility. I really think that Montenegro is on the right track. I remember that Minister Lavrov used to say that we cannot be guided by the logic implying that one cannot be a partner of Russia, if it is an ally of the United States, and vice versa. And if Montenegro is on the right track, it is good for all its friends. And for Russia, as well.
Source: Government of Montenegro