Montenegro’s accession to NATO got a lot of unwanted attention in Brussels last month when US President Donald Trump shoved aside the prime minister to stand in front of the group of leaders. For the record, Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said it was a “non-event” despite the huge flow of outrage from elsewhere.
But on Wednesday at NATO headquarters, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reaffirmed for the tiny Balkan state that it stands among equals in the NATO alliance.
Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic participated in the official accession ceremony in Washington earlier this week. He spoke with DW’s Teri Schultz at NATO headquarters just moments after Wednesday’s ceremony welcoming his country into the fold.
Foreign Minister Darmanovic at NATO Wednesday
Deutsche Welle: Eleven years after independence, Montenegro is a member of NATO. What does it mean for your country?
Srdjan Darmanovic: It is a great day for us, a historic day, strong emotions. We became members of the strongest political military alliance that ever existed. It is our definite departure to the west, to the family of democracies to the Euro-Atlantic family. And this is the biggest achievement for our country since we regained our independence in 2006.
DW: The Kremlin has warned you in no uncertain terms that they consider [NATO membership] a hostile path that Montenegro is taking. Secretary General [Jens] Stoltenberg says now there will be 28 allies ready to defend you. Do you think they’re going to have to?
SD: It is regrettable what we have been listening [to] from Moscow the last months or even longer. We are definitely not any threat for the superpower, as Russia is. But we still have to cope with that. What we wanted was to decide by ourselves by our own.
DW: How do you think the Kremlin expects you to react? To say you won’t join?
SD: [The Russians have] already tried to do a lot. There was a coup attempt in October and they’ve been interfering in our affairs by supporting the opposition; they are doing this in continuation. They are gathering opposition to the presidential race next year already. They are issuing statements about our NATO membership.
DW: What about this hacking case? Two days ago the Montenegrin government was apparently hacked. Some experts are blaming it on Russia.
SD: We have to count on these different ways of interference though we hope that in time Russia might take a little more cool course about it because we are not a threat for Russia whatsoever. We should carefully analyze the threats because Russia proved capable to interfere in elections is much much bigger, much stronger countries. There is propaganda stuff; there is financial stuff.
DW: What about the people who doubted it was a coup? Here in Brussels they were very cautious about claims it was a coup and Russian-backed.
SD: First of all, we informed all of our allies in NATO and they know very well what happened. They provided a lot of help to us in our investigation, as well as Serbia did in the beginning. In a democracy, this kind of stuff is going to be resolved in a court, as will be the case in Montenegro. So the case will be will be organized in an open trial and our prosecutor for organized crime is pretty convinced he has a strong case. On the other side I’m sure that the defendants will have a very good counsel. So it will be one of the most important trials in recent history of Montenegro. It will start soon.
DW: How will NATO membership affect Montenegro going forward?
SD: Montenegro is definitely not the same country from Monday on as it was before. We are a member of the strongest military alliance that ever existed in the world. And we count on the solidarity principle embodied in Article 5, but also we want to contribute, as we have already contributed in Afghanistan, in the anti-ISIS coalition, in promoting the “open door policy” in the region in very good cooperation with our neighbors. So we are one of the small countries in NATO but small countries can contribute too.
DW: How do you think this will affect your EU bid?
SD: There is no direct link between membership in EU and NATO. But it is out of doubt that the EU does not need any more to ask whether Montenegro is a secure country, a safe country or not. The matter of our security now is solved. It can at least indirectly contribute to the success of our accession talks.