Montenegro’s president voices concerns on Russia’s influence

Montenegro president Milo Đukanović

Montenegro’s President, Milo Đukanović, criticized the European Union on Tuesday, accusing it of allowing Russia to expand its influence in the Western Balkans.

Djukanovic expressed his concern that the EU’s perceived negligence has created a “platform” for anti-EU policies in the volatile region.

Speaking with Associated Press, Djukanovic, who is currently preparing for a Sunday runoff election against political newcomer Jakov Milatović, discussed the EU’s position towards the Balkans. He states,

Russia has simply walked into an open space left by the European Union… It has developed its network in the Balkans, whereas the European Union, in the past 10 years, didn’t know what to do with the Western Balkans.

Milo Đukanović, Montenegro President, 2018 – 2023

Đukanović, who has held the largely ceremonial presidency since 2018, secured the most votes in the first round of Montenegro’s presidential election held on March 19. However, analysts believe that his challenger, former Economy Minister Jakov Milatović, stands a strong chance of winning in the two-candidate runoff due to the backing he has received from other candidates and political parties.

With an upcoming parliamentary election scheduled for June 11, the outcome of the presidential runoff is considered a significant indicator of Montenegro’s future path.

As a small NATO member with a population of 620,000 people, Montenegro’s EU aspirations have been hindered by political stalemate, raising concerns about stability amidst the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Brutal populism

President Đukanović presented the presidential contest as a choice between his pro-EU policies and what he described as the “brutal populism” of the current coalition government, which officially supports EU integration but is dominated by parties favoring closer ties with Serbia and Russia.

Đukanović’s Democratic Party of Socialists held undisputed power in Montenegro for three decades until the 2020 parliamentary vote resulted in the formation of the current ruling coalition.

Đukanović claimed that the ruling coalition has caused significant economic and financial damage to Montenegro during its 2.5-year tenure. Although the coalition government has pledged to continue Montenegro’s EU path, Djukanovic argued that its policies indicate otherwise, particularly its efforts to improve relations with the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro.

Once regarded as a positive example of a country promoting European values in the Balkans, Montenegro’s reputation has suffered due to recent developments, according to Djukanovic. He expressed concern that negotiations with Montenegro could be halted, painting a negative image of the country as a “cancer wound” in the Western Balkans.

When asked about his opponent’s potential victory, Đukanović expressed his belief that it would signify a continuation of the current trajectory. However, he remained confident in his own victory, emphasizing its importance for Montenegro’s European future.

Đukanović, who assumed power at the age of 29, highlighted the peaceful achievement of independence, the avoidance of Balkan conflicts, and the preservation of stability during his government’s leadership.

While acknowledging corruption as a prevalent issue worldwide, he expressed his unwavering focus on winning the election and his belief in a positive European future for Montenegro.

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