Pro-Kremlin media outlets in Poland have given a Russian spin to their coverage of the October 2016 coup attempt in Montenegro, where authorities said that on Election Day they foiled a Kremlin-backed move designed to stall the country’s accession to NATO and murder Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. A Montenegrin prosecutor is preparing to indict one Russian intelligence officer accused of planning the coup.
Russia is popular in Montenegro, and the two countries enjoy extensive economic and cultural ties. But the Podgorica government nevertheless hopes to wrap up the nearly completed process of bringing the country into NATO, and into the EU by 2020. The Kremlin called
NATO’s December 2015 invitation for Montenegro to join the alliance “openly confrontational” and threatened to retaliate. Elsewhere in the region, Russia has been trying to fill the vacuum
left as U.S. and EU influence has ebbed in the Western Balkans in recent months. For example, Moscow has increased military cooperation with Serbia; a recent study found that 109 Serbian organizations are devoted to advancing good relations with Russia, while all mainstream Serbian news outlets regularly run stories by Sputnik, Russia’s state-controlled news agency.
In Poland, meanwhile, Russia-leaning media have tried to advance the Kremlin narrative by stressing the dangers to regional security that would result from Montenegro’s entry into NATO.
According to some online media sites, Montenegro’s inclusion in the alliance would violate a post-Cold War deal with Russia. It is said that after the USSR’s disintegration, NATO promised to not to expand to “closer abroad”—code for former Soviet republics or Warsaw Pact countries. One site argues
that accession would be the result of a U.S. provocation, as happened in Ukraine.
magazine states that after the Cold War, NATO and Russia agreed that the West would not intrude into Russia’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. With Montenegro in the alliance, Serbia would be encircled and isolated
The Pracownia 4 blog states
that Montenegro’s NATO aspirations are fed by a U.S. web of non-governmental organizations.
Marucha, a blogger from Poland, assumes
that NATO propaganda is spilling from Montenegrin media outlets—some 15 to 25 TV programs and 40-50 press articles monthly to make accession to the alliance more likely.
Kresy.pl, well-known for supporting Moscow’s denial of involvement in the attempted coup, endorses
the skepticism of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic, who doubts the scenario of Russian involvement presented by the Montenegrin prosecutors office.
Other Polish pro-Kremlin media outlets are apparently attempting to erase any evidence of Moscow's involvement in the coup by describing Montenegro’s anti-NATO protests as a general movement against authoritarian government. Kresy.pl accuses
Western media of neglecting the protests. It calls Djukanovic an “autocrat” and accuses him of links to Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic, who led acts of genocide during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.
So far, the anti-NATO media campaign seems to be ineffective. Last year, 79 percent of Poles supported their country’s membership in the alliance. In order to keep support high, however, Western politicians must clarify that Poland needs NATO expansion to neutralize anti-integration propaganda. At the same time, they must publicize Washington’s full support for Montenegrin accession. The West needs to state there is no post-Cold War deal on spheres of influence between United States and Russia, under which Montenegro would remain under the Russian sphere of influence. Such fake information serves as an argument against NATO enlargement. Western democracies need to underline that no danger is connected to NATO expansion integration. In fact, the opposite is true; the credible security guarantees the alliance provides were an incentive for Podgorica to seek accession in the first place.
Photo: Stevo Vasiljevic/Reuters