Montenegro officially joins NATO, a move which many say could undermine Russia’s bid to keep its foothold in southeast Europe.
On Monday, preparations were underway in Washington hosting a welcoming ceremony for Montenegro to officially join NATO and become the 29th member of the Western military alliance.
The accession comes at the dismay of Russia, which holds historic influence over Montenegro. Russia has warned tourists against visits to Montenegro while imports of food stuff have been banned from the country.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova recently said that “there is an anti-Russian hysteria in Montenegro.”
She added that Russians may be exposed to risks like “arrests for suspicious reasons or extradition to third countries” if they visit the Slavic country. Moscow has also vowed that it would retaliate politically.
Ethnic Russians comprise a fourth of Montenegro’s population of 620,000. Many members of the community have been against Montenegro’s accession to NATO while the rest believe that the country should have maintained neutral in dealing with Russia and the West.
“If we were neutral all the time, why shouldn’t we continue with it so that we keep good relations with America, Russia and all the other countries?” said Mirko Bozovic, a resident of Montenegro’s capital Podgorica.
The government has, however, defended the move as a stabilizing measure while denying that it could discourage Russian tourists from visiting the country.
“One of the reasons we are joining NATO is to create greater stability, not only for Montenegrin citizens, but also for foreign investors and tourists,” Djukanovic said. “Therefore, our goal is to bring even more Russian tourists,” said Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who has been one of the driving forces behind Montenegro’s NATO bid over the years.
Strahinja Bulajic, an official in the pro-Russia opposition Democratic Front, also reacted to Montenegro’s membership in NATO and described it as a sad moment in the country’s history.
“Today, Montenegro is being annexed like never before in its history … Today is one of the most shameful days in Montenegrin history,” official said.