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21st Apr 2019

'Russian riviera' to become 29th Nato member

  • The Budva deep-water port plays host to some of Russia's wealthiest businessmen (Photo: Sarah Tzinieris)

Montenegro, the tiny Balkan state beloved by yacht-owning Russians, was, on Wednesday (2 December), invited to start accession talks with Nato.

“It is a great day for my country and for the alliance ... It is great news for the Western Balkans, for its unity and security," Igor Luksic, its foreign minister, told press.

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Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato chief, called it “another important step in the Euro-Atlantic integration of the entire Western Balkans region,” which “makes clear that Nato keeps its door open.”

US secretary of state John Kerry added: “Countries have chosen of their own free will to want to join Nato to be part of a Europe that is whole and free and at peace. Nato is not a threat to anybody. It’s not an offensive organisation. It’s a defensive alliance.”

The accession talks are set to start in early 2016.

Stoltenberg noted that “work remains to be done” on “defence adaptation” and “domestic reform, especially rule of law.”

He also urged Podgorice to “make progress in demonstrating public support” for the step.

His remarks come amid violent protests against Montengerin PM Milo Dukanovic, who has ruled the country, on and off, since 1991, over corruption allegations.

For his part, Luksic has accused Russia of whipping up the protests as a way of halting the Nato bid.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, on Wednesday voiced Moscow’s displeasure, saying: “Moscow has always noted … that the continuing expansion of Nato and Nato’s military infrastructure to the east, of course, cannot but lead to response actions from the East, namely, the Russian side in ensuring security interests.”

Srdjan Milic, the head of Montenegro’s opposition Popular Socialist Party, added most Montengerins don’t want to go ahead.

“To extend an invitation ... represents an act of aggression against the peace, stability and security of our citizens,” he said, AFP reports.

Montenegro, which is also known as the Russian riviera, because of the popularity of its deep water port with yacht-owning Russian tycoons, began preparatory Nato talks in 2009.

Albania, Croatia, and Slovenia are already members.

Macedonia is next in line, but is being blocked by Greece over a name dispute.

Bosnia and Kosovo want to join. But Serbia, a historic Russian ally, doesn’t.

Ukraine

Stoltenberg and Kerry on Wednesday also met with Ukraine’s foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin.

They held out an olive branch to Russia, but warned that EU and US economic sanctions are likely to stay in place.

Stoltenberg said he has decided to restart meetings of the Nato-Russia Council, suspended last year over the Ukraine conflict, for the sake of “political contact and dialogue.”

But he noted that “Russia has not withdrawn its troops or its equipment” from east Ukraine, adding “we see a real risk of a resumption of violence.”

Kerry said Russia could be “an extremely constructive and important player” on the Syria war.

But he also said: “if Moscow wants relief from sanctions … it’s there for the getting if you simply live up to the promises that have been made.”

Greek bombshell

For its part, Russia is cultivating relations with friendly governments in Cyprus and Greece to lobby on its side.

The Greek defence minister, Panos Kammenos, on Wednesday contradicted Nato and US statements, which said the Russian SU-24 shot down by Turkey had invaded Turkish airspace.

"The attack took place in Syrian airspace. This is beyond doubt," Kammenos said, according to Russia’s Tass news agency.

"This is undoubtedly a military action in the territory of another state.”

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who visited Cyprus the same day, noted: “"We appreciate Nicosia’s interests and the efforts that our Cypriot friends have been taking for the sake of normalising [EU] relations."

"We regard Brussels’ freeze on relations with Russia as absolutely counter-productive.”

Nato invites Montenegro to start accession talks

A Nato that includes Montenegro would cover almost the entire coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. The extended hand to Montenegro can be expected to trigger sharp reactions from Russia.

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Almost 1,000 Romanian nationals were caught trying to sneak into the United States in 2017, of which around half attempted to cross via Mexico. Nationals from countries like Hungary and the UK were also intercepted.

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