Monday, November 28, 2016

Look out for Montenegro under our new regime

If I hadn't hiked in Montenegro's mountains last year, I would have missed this obscure, but potentially significant, snippet of news amidst the news deluge over the weekend. Montenegrin authorities are interrogating a suspect who describes a baroque plot he claims was cooked up by Russia's intelligence service that aimed

to seize Montenegro’s Parliament building last month, kill the prime minister and install a new government hostile to NATO

The details are the stuff of Balkan conspiracies, opaque and slightly surreal, full of implied rather than proven connections -- and some plausibility. Buried deep in the story, comes the nugget that suggests trouble ahead.

To Moscow’s dismay, Serbia and Montenegro, both traditionally close to Russia, have increasingly tilted toward the West, applying to join the European Union and, in Montenegro’s case, even NATO.

With a few thousand soldiers, a handful of tanks and only 600,000 residents, Montenegro — whose application to join NATO was accepted in May and now awaits ratification — is hardly a military powerhouse. But it controls the only stretch of coastline where warships can dock between Gibraltar and eastern Turkey not already in the hands of the alliance. ...

Russia has campaigned furiously to keep Montenegro out of the alliance, supporting pro-Moscow political groups in the country and Orthodox priests who view NATO as a threat to Slavic fraternity and faith.

“NATO is an occupying force, and I am absolutely against it,” said Momcilo Krivokapic, an Orthodox priest ... . His church in Kotor, an ancient fortress town, is just a few yards from Kotor Bay, a deepwater haven long coveted by both Russia and the West for its strategic location. ...

Here's a view of that bay from above. Attractive, isn't it?
Lots of Russians have thought so, both dissidents who were getting their money out of Putin's kleptocracy and Putin's state as well. The bay is flanked by resort homes and hotels, an Adriatic Riviera with a Russian flavor. The Montenegrins I met, English speaking and part of the tourist industry, desperately wanted to be accepted as part of Europe. The country adopted the Euro as its currency, despite not being a member of the European Union. Yet the majority piety of the country is largely Russian Orthodox, looking to the Moscow patriarch for leadership.

According to the AP, today

Montenegrin lawmakers are set to swear in a pro-NATO government amid political tensions following an alleged foiled election day coup orchestrated by Russian nationalists to derail the Balkan country's bid to join the alliance. ... Opposition parties have boycotted the session.

I can easily imagine that Montenegrins might find themselves treated as a "thank you" present from our President-elect to his Russian buddies, blocked by Trump from membership in NATO. Trump's Washington Times (the Moonie paper) backers think that's a great idea. Trump showed an interest in Montenegrin hotels in 2007; my cursory investigation failed to turn up whether anything had come of that. Presumably if Trump hands over Montenegro's future to Russia, Putin would let him put up a magnificent resort or two on the Bay of Kotor.

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