Russia and Montenegro: How and Why a Centuries Old Relationship Ruptured

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Ivana Gardasevic

Political Analyst
ivanagardasevic@live.com

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By the end of 2016 Montenegro (MNE) and America were experiencing similar problems. Among numerous accusations by politicians that the elections were irregular, Presidential in US and Parliamentarian in Montenegro, there was one more thing that was common for Montenegro and USA last year – Russian meddling in the democratic process of both countries. Russia was involved in obstruction of the American presidential elections, according to an official assessment from American intelligence agencies.  During the 16 October election night in Montenegro, a group of Russian citizens together with individuals from Serbia and Montenegro, reportedly planned to kill former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and overthrow his pro-Western government. According to the official statement regarding this by the Montenegrin Special Prosecutor Milivoje Katnic, given at a press conference on 6 November 2016, Russian nationalists were involved in the planned action with the goal of stopping Montenegrin accession to NATO. [1] On 18 November, Katnic released the names of two Russians who are accused of organizing the attack – Eduard Shirokov, currently on the Interpol’s red notice and Vladimir Popov.[2] In 2014, Shirokov was a deputy military attaché in the Russian embassy in Poland, but was expelled as persona non-grata, due to espionage for Russia. Both Shirokov and Popov are members of GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service. [3]

Shirokov and Popov, Wanted by Interpol Red Notice

With high-tech assistance to view encrypted calls and emails between plotters from British and American services, there was credible evidence from both countries that an attempt of terrorist attack was something real, and resulted in the arrest of 20 suspects in this case. Montenegrin’s society remains divided on the veracity of this case; with many believing this was manufactured by the ruling party on the Election Day. [4] These divisions, between Montenegrins and Serbs (who support stronger ties with Russia) dates from the period of separation from Serbia in 2006, which created a society in which the Serb portion of the nation wanted, and continues to want to annex Montenegro to Serbia, oppose NATO integration and wants a militarily neutral country under the protectorate of Russia.

Historical Relations Between Two Countries

We must look to history to explain this strong Russian influence in the Balkans. Russia had a centuries long obsession to become ‘’the third Rome’’[5]– an idea hatched in the 15th century after the fall of Constantinople under the Ottomans. This ambition of Russia can be clearly seen from letters of Monk Filofej to the Russian emperor Peter the Great in the 18th century in which he says: ‘’All the kingdoms of the Christian Orthodox faith are poured into your kingdom, and you are the only Christian Emperor under the heavens.” [6] In his book Political Thought Dostoevsky explains the necessity of Russia to be a world leader: -‘’In order to exist for a long time, every great nation must believe that the salvation of the world lays in them, only them, that their only goal is to rule other nations, in order to unite them and lead them to a greater cause.’’[7] In a political statement of Peter the Great, written in 18th century, one can find his grand plan for Russia to win world domination through the conquest of the Middle East. [8] This document also stated that Russia must extend her boundaries over the Balkan states and Constantinople, across the Dardanelles and so forth. Peter the Great writes: ‘’Approach as near as possible to Constantinople and India. Whoever governs there will be the true sovereign of the world. Consequently, excite continual wars, not only in Turkey, but in Persia. Establish dockyards on the Black sea. Penetrate to the Persian Gulf…’’  Here are some additional points of the statement:

  1. To keep the Russian nation in constant warfare, in order to always have good soldiers.
  2. Interfere in the affairs of all Europe, particularly Germany which deserves your main attention.
  3. Divide Poland, by raising up continual disorders and jealousies.
  4. Take all you can from Sweden; isolate her from Denmark, and vice versa. Be careful to rouse their jealousy.
  5. Do all in your power to approach closely Constantinople and India. Hasten the fall of Persia. Open a route towards the Persian Gulf. Re-establish, as much as possible, the ancient commerce of the Levant, and then approach India.

Every serious analysis of Russian foreign policy recognizes the Balkans as an important area where imperial and later Soviet Russia had strong ambitions and constant geostrategic interest. Thanks to the cultural, religious and political relations, the Balkans was an area where the Orthodox religion created a special tie, together with the historic fight against the Ottomans.  During the long history of their relations, Montenegro and Russia had a love-hate relationship.  A significant number of those who are not familiar with Montenegrin history, of which, unfortunately, there are many, believe that Russia and Montenegro had a centuries long partnership, brotherhood, friendship and mutual respect. Russian diplomacy towards Montenegro, before and after gaining independence at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, was more of a diktat, a continuous attempt to keep a small country such as Montenegro under control. There were periods during which Montenegro saw Russia as Patroness figure, to whom we owed loyalty. But a long-term patronage that Russia was achieving in MNE by sending money to the Montenegrin rulers, was in fact the way to keep this small country on a leash, and a short one at that, to ensure this small but militarily competent nation could join their wars when it suited their interest.  Each time Montenegrin rulers tried to turn to other countries in order to establish or strengthen an alliance, Russia reacted aggressively by cutting financial help significantly. As many historian claim, Russia was even behind the murder of the Montenegrin ruler Prince Danilo in 1860. According to the historical theory that was never proved, the motive was the Montenegrin desire to create closer ties to France during Danilo’s governance, which was perceived by Russia as a betrayal. Perhaps the most vivid impression of how Russia viewed a small country such as Montenegro is detailed in the document ‘’Montenegro from 1860-1900’’-published in the magazine of the Russian Academy of Science “Славяноведение” by historian Dr. Varvara Borisovna Hlebnikova, in which the Russian ambassador in Montenegro, Konstantin Arkadijevic Gubastov states: ‘’Montenegro cannot have any kind of citizen mission that other communities might have; no independent form of state cannot exist within that territory. As a country, Montenegro is too small, too poor and deprived of the ability to have peaceful civil existence.’’ [9]

The idea of Russia as a superpower continued during the long history of its leaders. It is worth mentioning Stalin and his definition of internationalism that says: – ‘’The touchstone and infallible criteria of internationalism is the attitude towards the Soviet Union – the socialist motherland to all working people, bastion of peace and security of the nation. Internationalist is the one who is without question, without hesitation, without any conditions willing to protect the SSR because the SSR is the base of the world revolutionary movement.’’[10] Modern history of international relations shows how the Russian special vision of the world continuously evolved and grew. Another example is President Dmitry Medvedev’s call for a new European security architecture, the most active initiative undertaken by Russian diplomacy in recent years. [11] The Medvedev project was launched in 2009 with an attempt to introduce Russia’s own vision of European and Euro-Atlantic security. The Kremlin seeks to exploit divisions within the Western alliance, between the US and Europe, and amongst the Europeans themselves. In a very real sense, it reflects Russia’s desire to play, and have the leading role as a ‘responsible stakeholder’ in regional and global affairs.

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[1] ”Montenegro Says Russian ‘Nationalists’ Were Behind Plot To Kill Djukanovic”, Radio Free Europe, November 06, 2016, https://www.rferl.org/a/montenegro-russian-nationalists-plot-assassination-djukanovic/28100046.html

[2] ”Istraga o pokušaju ‘državnog udara’ u Crnoj Gori”, Aljazeera Balkans, November 20, 2016, http://balkans.aljazeera.net/vijesti/istraga-o-pokusaju-drzavnog-udara-u-crnoj-gori

[3]  Farmer, Ben 2017, ”Montenegro ‘to indict Russian spy behind coup plot”’, The Telegraph, 26 February 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/02/26/montenegro-indict-russian-spy-behind-coup-plot/

[4]  Recknagel, Charles 2016,  ‘’ Montenegrin Opposition Calls Charges Of Plot To Kill Djukanovic ‘Fabricated’’’, Radio Free Europe, November 06, 2016, https://www.rferl.org/a/montenegro-russia-denies-role-plot-to-kill-pm/28101516.html

[5] Radonjic, R, “U predjelima duha”, Podgorica, 2015, page 80

[6] Nersesjanc, V . S., ”История политических и правовых учений”, Moscow, 1988, page 157

[7] Dostojevski, F. M. , ”Political thought”, Belgrade, 1934, page 243.

[8] Dimitry V. Lehovich, “The Testament of Peter the Great”, American Slavic and East European Review Vol. 7, No. 2 (Apr., 1948), pp. 111-124

[9] Khlebnikova, V.B. (Varvara Borisovna), ‘’Rossiia i Chernogoriia v kontse XIX-nachale XX vv.’’Vladivostok: Izd-vo Dalʹnevostochnogo universiteta, 1992 page 40-51,  https://www.antenam.net/index.php/istorija/item/13205-strogo-povjerljivo-ruski-car-pocetkom-1914-odlucio-drzavu-crnu-goru-unistiti-pripojiti-je-srbiji-1

[10] ”Большая советская энциклопедия”, Второе издание, Мосow, 1953, том 18, page 300

[11]  Lo, Bobo 2009, ”Medvedev and the new European security architecture”, Open democracy, August 3, 2009, https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/medvedev-and-the-new-european-security-architecture

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