During an interview last year, President Trump and Tucker Carlson had this exchange:
CARLSON: Membership in NATO obligates the members to defend any other member who has been attacked. So let’s say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked: Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack? Why is that?
TRUMP: I understand what you’re saying. . .but that’s the way it was set up. . . .
Carlson wasn’t making any point specific to Montenegro. He was illustrating a general point about NATO.
As it happens, though, Russia is moving in on Montenegro, though not by means of a military invasion. Last month, a court in Montenegro convicted two pro-Russian opposition politicians of conspiring with Russian agents in 2016 to topple the government. Prosecutors said the plotters, backed by the Kremlin, planned to assassinate Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic in order to block Montenego’s entry to NATO.
Meanwhile, on the economic front, Russia is investing heavily in Montenegro. On our recent visit, we saw that Russian money is transforming the ancient port town of Budva into a booming resort. New construction projects abounded.
As the New York Times put it, “wealthy Russians are buying up coastal Montenegro.” As our guide put it, Budva waiters must be able to speak Russian.
Russia could not prevent Montenegro from joining NATO. However, Montenegro is not yet a member of the EU. It applied a decade ago and has adopted the Euro (ironically, Croatia, an EU member since 2013, does not use the Euro yet). However, it is still waiting to be admitted.
As Russian influence grows, I wonder how much longer Montenegro will continue to desire EU entry. Milo Djukanovic, Europe’s most durable leader and the target of that 2016 assassination plot, has led the charge for NATO and EU entry. He warns that “third parties, such as Russia and China, are making gains [in the Western Balkans] due to a lack of a concrete EU activity in the region.” The fact that Russia, not any entity associated with the EU, is responsible for the tourism boom in Budva supports Djukanovic’s warning and provides fuel for those who wonder which side has more to offer Montenegro.
The Russians aren’t going to attack Montenegro. Carlson need not worry about his son being deployed there. One can imagine a scenario in which Russia comes to dominate that country, though.