Montenegro Gets New Premier as Russia Opposes NATO, EU Entry

Updated on
  • Markovic to be sworn in following reports of failed coup
  • NATO membership would limit Russian access to Adriatic Sea

Montenegrin lawmakers confirmed Dusko Markovic as prime minister, ushering in a new government after his predecessor accused Serbian and pro-Russian nationalists of trying to derail the country’s efforts to join the European Union and NATO.

Markovic, a lawyer who has served as justice minister since 2012 and led foreign and internal policies as deputy premier since March 2015, will continue to push the country toward western integration after taking over from his party chief, Milo Djukanovic following Oct. 16 elections. Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists, backed by its coalition of minorities and the Liberals and Social Democrats, approved the government with 42 of parliament’s 81 seats. The opposition didn’t attend the session.

epa05645924 Montenegro Deputy Prime Minister and former national security chief Dusko Markovic attends the first constitutive session of the Montenegro Parliament  in Podgorica, Montenegro, 24 November 2016. Montenegro's Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and leader of ruling Democratic Party of Socialists will not serve as prime minister in the next government. The Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) had decided to propose Dusko Markovic as new candidate for the post of the Montenegro Prime Minister .The opposition did not attend the parliament session because of the irregularities during election day.  EPA/BORIS PEJOVIC

Montenegrin Prime Minister-designate Dusko Markovic.

Photographer: Boris Pejovic/EPA

“We will seek to overcome misunderstandings in relations with our historical ally, Russia,” Markovic said in a speech to lawmakers. “The dedication of the government is unambiguous: we see Montenegro as a member of the NATO alliance and of the European Union.”

Montenegro has been rocked by allegations of a plot meant to steer the smallest former Yugoslav republic away from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a move that would put the control of all ports along the Adriatic coast under the alliance’s members and constrain movement of non-allied ships. Markovic will take office after authorities arrested 20 people, mostly Serb nationals, during the general election last month. The government accused them of plotting to overthrow the cabinet and assassinate Djukanovic for moving his nation away from Russia, its historical ally.

Russian Opposition

The accusations follow gains by Russian-friendly political figures across the former Eastern Bloc, including presidential election victories by fighter pilot Rumen Radev in Bulgaria and Socialist Party leader Igor Dodon in Moldova this month.

NATO issued a formal invitation for Montenegro to join last year. The country of 630,000 people is now awaiting ratification by the alliance’s members and its own parliament, which should be completed in early 2017. President Vladimir Putin has condemned NATO’s spread into former Communist Europe, an expansion the military alliance’s newest members have pursued to draw closer to the West and extricate themselves from Russian influence after bitter memories of Soviet-backed rule.

Djukanovic, who served in an almost unbroken stint as either prime minister or president since 1991, identified nationalist groups from Serbia and Russia as trying to prevent Montenegro’s NATO membership and the alliance’s expansion into the Western Balkans. He said after the election that he learned about the alleged coup attempt and assassination plans from the media after police arrested “a certain group of persons.”

“The organizers of the criminal group are nationalists from Russia” who believed Djukanovic’s government “should be ousted forcibly,” Chief Prosecutor Milivoje Katnic said in a Nov. 6 statement on his office’s website. He said the plan was for a group of people to “infiltrate” by acting as ordinary citizens and enter the parliament building. Media have reported that two agents of the Russian military intelligence service were involved in the foiled coup. Both remain at large.

‘Unambiguous Support’

Montenegrin opposition leader Milan Knezevic, of the Democratic People’s Party, called for Russia’s “strong and unambiguous support” in preventing Djukanovic from establishing a “NATO state in the Balkans,” Montenegro’s state TV broadcaster said in a report on its website on Sunday.

Footage also showed Leonid Reshetnikov, the head of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, saying that Montenegro “is definitely within our zone of direct interests.” The situation may escalate into bloodshed and a storming of parliament, with events depending on how decisive the opposition leaders are, he said. 

The yield on Montenegro’s 5-year benchmark bond maturing in 2020 rose five basis points to 4.386 percent on Friday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Montenegro declared independence from Serbia in 2006 and unilaterally introduced the euro as its official currency in 2002.