We Need to Putin-Proof the Balkans Now

Southeastern Europe is entering renewed crisis—and Moscow is fomenting more chaos at a dangerous time

Friday brought good news for those who want Europe’s troubled Southeast to join Western security and political structures. Montenegro’s parliament officially approved the country’s invitation to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It wasn’t a slam-dunk—approval got 46 votes in the 81-member assembly, with opponents boycotting the vote—and joining NATO remains controversial in the tiny Balkan country, but this was unquestionably a setback for the Russians.

Vladimir Putin pushed hard to keep Montenegro out of the Atlantic Alliance, applying the full range of dirty tricks in the Kremlin’s Special War toolbox: espionage, propaganda, subversion, even plotting assassination and terrorism. It didn’t work in the end, indeed a ham-handed scheme by Russian spies to violently overthrow Montenegro’s government last fall probably helped the pro-NATO side in the end.

Kremlin motivations here are anti-Western spite more than rational strategic calculus. Montenegro was never part of either the Tsarist or Soviet empires, and while it’s easy to see why Russians are perturbed by NATO expansion in the former USSR, Moscow’s anger over a tiny country on the other side of Europe seems out of place. Yet, as I’ve previously explained, Putin continues to fret about NATO’s role in the break-up of Yugoslavia a generation ago, which he like many Russians views as some sort of nefarious Western plot. This is pure ressentiment.

The Russians lost this round, however, and Montenegro will soon become NATO’s 29th member, perhaps at the Alliance’s 2017 summit in Brussels in late May. While Montenegro brings little to NATO, strictly speaking—its military is smaller than Baltimore’s police department, and not much better armed—its geostrategic position is important. NATO will now control the entire Adriatic coastline, which has real implications for the security of the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. The country’s key port of Kotor, a protected maritime repair facility long coveted by Moscow, is a definite positive for the Alliance.

Read the rest at The Observer …