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Montenegrin PM Warns Russia To 'Keep Hands Off' NATO Bid

  • RFE/RL's Balkan Service

Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said in Podgorica on February 14 that those warning of unrest "in Montenegro or outside of it should keep their hands off Montenegro."

Montenegro's prime minister, Dusko Markovic, has told Russia and its allies within Montenegro to stop destabilizing the country as part of their opposition to Podgorica's NATO membership bid.

Speaking on February 14, Markovic said that those warning of unrest "in Montenegro or outside of it should keep their hands off Montenegro."

His remarks came after pro-Russian parties denounced a call by Montenegro's special prosecutor for parliament to lift the immunity of two senior opposition leaders.

The pro-Kremlin opposition Democratic Front leaders, Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic, were allegedly involved in a pro-Russian plot in October 2016 to kill the then-prime minister and take over power to prevent Montenegro from joining NATO.

Prosecutor Milivoje Katnic wants their immunity lifted so they can be detained and put on trial for criminal conspiracy and inciting "acts against constitutional order and the security of Montenegro."

Parliament is due to vote on their immunity on February 15. Pro-Russian opposition parties have called for demonstrations outside of the national assembly in Podgorica during the February 15 vote.

Mandic and Knezevic have dismissed the plot allegations as "fiction."

Mandic has made several recent visits to Moscow, where he received support from the Kremlin for his anti-NATO position.

He has warned of civil war in Montenegro over the issue of NATO membership.

But Markovic's government remains committed to forging ties with the West.

Montenegro in October arrested about 20 people -- including two Russian citizens -- in connection with the alleged coup plot.

Most of the others arrested in October are pro-Russian Serbian nationals.

The Kremlin has denied involvement, but has actively supported local groups that oppose Montenegro becoming a NATO member.

NATO Awaits Approval, Including U.S.

Twenty-four of NATO's 28 members have approved Montenegrin membership, which was endorsed by NATO leaders at a Warsaw summit in July 2016.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on February 14, a day before a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, that he couldn't say exactly when the remaining four NATO members will ratify the accession protocol for Montenegro, but added that "we are on a good track to have the membership of Montenegro relatively soon."

The United States is one of the four countries yet to formally approve Podgorica's NATO bid.

But Stoltenberg said on February 14 that "there has been no sign that the U.S. administration is not supporting the ratification."

"It has a strong bipartisan support in the Senate and the [Senate] Foreign Relations Committee has supported it, so I think it is also on a good track in the U.S.," Stoltenberg said.

However, U.S. President Donald Trump's description of NATO as an "obsolete" organization and his calls for improved relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin have worried many in Montenegro that Trump may try to block Podgorica's membership bid.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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