Deputy Prime Minister of Montenegro and coordinator of security services, Dritan Abazovic, said that the attempt to bring down the whole security system after the event in Cetinje on September 5 was, for him, the red line that cannot be crossed.

The red line occurred after the events in Cetinje, there were no casualties there, we managed to successfully terminate one risky operation, sending a good message to Montenegro and the region, and after the risky weekend someone tried to bring down the whole security system, he said adding that it was not important whether this was done for the internal or some external reasons. To agree to this would mean that the whole country could be brought down in a similar situation, said Abazovic on the 2BS Forum, organized by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro.

I see it as an aggressive attempt and we need to send a message to the people that they can count on us, he was explicit, adding that a political agenda not aligned with the state interests of Montenegro does not have the support of his party.

He said that if there was room for criticizing the people from the security sector, he would be the first one to criticize them and would not support them. I do not think that the police are functioning flawlessly, but they showed some good results, Abazovic said, adding that if someone thinks that the police could be used as a whip or for someone’s own interests, they cannot count on that.

Deputy Prime Minister repeated that when the Agreement had been signed after the August 2020 parliamentary election, he did everything to protect Montenegro, its foreign policy, adding that he was sure it went successfully. When asked if he would support the Democratic Front entering the Government, Abazovic said that the mentioned Agreement represented a good foundation and each deviation from it meant a decline in support for his party.

I would never sign something that I do not truly support, he added, emphasizing that his party will never give up on the Euro-Atlantic path of Montenegro and will not choose seats over principles.

The Agreement is an expression of our politics and anyone who wants to sign it or follow it is welcome to do so, this Agreement is a victory of the pro-European course of Montenegro and I can say that I am not someone who signs something I do not believe in.

Asked if more could have been done concerning the promotion of Euro-Atlantic values, Abazovic listed the successes that were accomplished by cutting off transit routes of cigarettes and cocaine but also pointed out that the judiciary is the one minimizing the accomplished results.

Reflecting on the Government crisis, Abazovic said that the situation was complex and that personally, he did not like the fact the everyone was focused on departments and their number while a few mentioned the Government program.

He pointed out the need to accomplish wider political consensus, necessary for breaking the stalemate in relation to the issues in the judiciary, especially having in mind that Montenegro does not have the Constitutional Court since yesterday.
With a little bit of luck and wisdom, we may find the best solutions, Deputy Prime Minister concluded.

Disinformation is a part of a much larger ecosystem of the negative Russian influence and active measures that encompass a lot of different tools, including strategic corruption, that create a network of influences, organized crime that is an instrument of state administration for Russia, use of proxies and Trojan horses as well as the cyber-attacks, said Brian Whitmore, Nonresident Senior Fellow of the Atlantic Council at this year’s 2BS Forum.
Whitmore said on the panel about the influence of disinformation that societies with a high level of corruption, lack of public trust and polarization, are vulnerable to the threat of disinformation. He mentioned Finland and Estonia as an example of the countries where hybrid threats are not significantly influential, adding that these are the countries with a low level of corruption and divisions within society.
Whitmore states that a solution for this problem would be cooperation within the transatlantic community. We should raise the level of media literacy, civic education, increase resilience just as the Scandinavian and Baltic countries have done, he added.
Executive Director of the Media Association of South-East Europe Vuk Maras thinks that the first step in a fight against disinformation should be to strengthen the capacity of the media to be more responsible towards the readers, and then, to be more specific and professional. This is what our societies are missing.
Maras thinks that it is necessary to redefine the notion of media literacy and find an adequate solution how to reach young people. He adds that the Montenegrin authorities, as well as the Ministry in charge, must be included in this process. We cannot expect our allies and partners to solve this issue, he added.
It is really difficult to stop disinformation in Montenegro since we are under the permanent influence not only of the countries with neoliberal tendencies but also our neighborhood that we share the languages with, Maras thinks.
According to his words, we in Montenegro are again facing the fact that the Government is one of the biggest generators of fake news, constantly being launched in the public. We expected that they would do completely different things – help us and cooperate with media outlets, Maras concluded.

Russia is a global power and represents a huge threat for the West. It also seems that the West is not ready to confront this threat, said Ivana Stradner from the American Enterprise Institute while taking part in the 2BS Forum panel dedicated to the new international order and Russia’s role in it.

Russia’s strategic goal is to establish itself as a global power and terminate the US domination, it perceives NATO as its enemy and wants to challenge the collective security but also to disrupt the European unity, Stradner said.

She thinks that Russia became this dangerous due to the European weakness and lack of Europe’s will to challenge Russian efforts.

Stradner particularly emphasized Russia’s success in the usage of information. Nuclear weapon is a strategic weapon of Russia, but it is as important as the information and we should start thinking about information and cyber security in the same manner as Russia, she said, adding that the cyber security for the majority of Western countries is just a technical issue, while Russia sees them as an indispensable tool for a successful development and victory of their doctrine.

Russia is investing in technologies but it is investing more in the content having psychological influence, Stradner said. She thinks that the rise of tensions in the Western Balkan region suits Russia and that Russia also covers critical sectors of this area such as the energy and military potentials of some countries, but is also uses the tactics tried somewhere else, making a parallel between the use of the Serbian Orthodox Church in this area and Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

According to Dmitry Suslov, Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies, Russia is trying to consolidate itself as a global power aiming at influencing the creation of a new, polycentric international order.

Western domination era is over, Russia thinks that the setting is favorable for it to promote itself as an independent, great power, and it can confirm this in many fields – from the field of military to its role as energy power, Suslov said.

However, he is pointing out that the main trump in Russia’s favor is a global trend, i.e. the world evolution towards polycentrism. The era of the US and Germany is over and they are turning towards consolidation of traditional partners, but we have a huge number of countries outside the Western world striving for independence and sovereignty and they perceive Russia as a partner and huge global power, playing the significant role in all parts of the world.

That’s what the West refuses to see, and the Russia sees the West as a minority part of the world.
According to him, Russia used the slowdown in the process of the EU enlargement in order to apply the same polycentric approach in the Balkans.

Russia wants the Western Balkans to be polycentric and not dominated by the West, this is why the rise of Turkish and Chinese influence in this area suits her, since it creates polycentrism, Suslov said.

The biggest security challenge for the countries relating to China is the Chinese coupling of economic and security issues, said Ian Johnson, Senior Fellow from the Council on Foreign Relations.
On the panel about China and Chinese influence, he emphasized that China became the second most important economy in the world and is successfully developing its economic ties, accompanied by the political influence.
Speaking about the current security threat that China represents, he said that the European countries did not express huge concerns about China, as it is the case with Russia.
The Chinese strategy is to promote its interests through infrastructure projects and lending, and China is not always pushing it, said Johnson, adding that it happens often that the countries need money or that the state leaders think that they need money. He thinks that China is knocking on an open door and that there is a lack of support and money coming from the Western countries.
Philippe le Core, Senior Research Fellow from the Harvard Kennedy School, thinks that the US power is still strong, while the spreading of the Chinese soft power so far turned out to be unsuccessful. He adds that this leaves room for the US to make a coalition in Asia and Europe.
The US and the EU are creating alternative strategies in the fields of technology and infrastructure that need to confront China. When it comes to technology, Trump’s administration was pretty aggressive concerning the issue of 5G network and installing the Chinese technology in Europe. However, he added that the issue whether Europe and the US would be able to confront China with such strategies and ideas remains open.
Reid Standish, correspondent of the Radio Free Europe for China says that NATO has been taking stronger stance towards China in the previous period. He added that China did not represent a direct military threat to NATO but is definitely a new challenge.
Particular challenge for transatlantic community is the increasingly growing partnership between China and Russia, Standish said. He stated that the solutions for this issue are limited, adding that there is always a difference between what NATO should do and can do.
Also, Standish compared the US approach and the EU approach towards China. According to him, the US is clearly confronting China while the EU, despite being aware of the negative Chinese influence in Europe and the world, sees it as a necessary economic power.
Dimitar Bechev, non-resident Senior Fellow of the Atlantic Council, commented on the Chinese influence on the Western Balkans. He emphasized that the current situation in the Western Balkan countries leaves room for stronger cooperation with the countries not belonging to the EU or West.
China is knocking on an open door in this region. It is exploiting the economic situation, corruption and lack of transparency in these countries and that’s the reason why it is particularly successful in this region, Bechev said.

If you want to be a superpower, you need at least three things, a strong economy, a strong army, and strong diplomacy, said the Minister of Defense of Slovenia Matej Tonin at the 2BS Forum.

The topic of the panel was NATO and the new security agenda.

Tonin emphasized that the EU wants to be a superpower, but currently has solely a strong economy. That is why there are gaps that China and Russia use to expand their influence, he added.

Slovenian Minister of Defense believes the EU should do more for the region. We hosted the EU-Western Balkans Summit and we want the EU to be more involved in the Western Balkans, and to send a clear time frame when it would be appropriate for all countries to join the EU, Tonin said. He added that although this time they failed to determine a time frame, 30 billion euros were put aside.

The ability to adapt is a key reason why NATO has been the most successful in the past 30 years, said Bruno Lete, German Marshall Fund.

He emphasized that Europeans are quite worried about the security of their own defense. NATO will present a strategic concept in Madrid next year, but the EU is also preparing its strategic compass, Lete said. What is encouraging is the new momentum that exists on both sides of the Atlantic for cooperation and solution-finding.

When it comes to the NATO 2030 strategy, there are three pillars that we have to think about, power, technology, politics, Lete pointed out. He believes that we need to develop credible strategies for dealing with opponents, adding that Russia is a threat that we understand, while we still do not fully understand China.

Valbona Zeneli from the George Marshall Center said that the decisions that NATO is about to make will shape democracies in our societies. There is a group of scientists, and I am part of that group, that asked NATO to add another task in addition to the three basic pillars of the strategy, and that should be the task of resilience, she said.

Zeneli added that the resilience of our societies has been called into question internally and externally. NATO should not only look at democratic resilience within NATO countries but should share resilience and bring it up in the Balkans, she said, adding that NATO must adopt a new dynamic and comprehensive approach when it comes to resilience in countries that are not NATO members yet or in the countries of Eastern Partnership.

In her opinion, it is crucial to renew democracy as an ideology of choice, the basis of what NATO and member countries are doing. We need to defend the credibility of our value-based democracy and market economy, so these are important issues to pay attention to, she concluded.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of the United States Gabriel Escobar said today that the current Montenegrin Government would have the U.S. support as long as it remained democratic and focused on its European future.

Participating at the 11th 2BS Forum, Escobar said that the only solution to the tensions in the Balkans is a European membership for all the countries of the region.

We have always believed that the key to stability of this region is its EU membership, he said. Even though he believes that the U.S. politics towards the region has not changed through any of the administrations and that they all have a goal to implement the rule of law, fight corruption, and develop democratic institutions, he announced, however, an increased presence and commitment of the Unites States to the region, including a clear focus of the President Biden himself.

Answering to the question on how the United States can help the Balkan countries to achieve stability, he said that the United States had a big package in the region that was aimed at helping countries make the gains.

We use every opportunity at the high level to encourage our European partners to accelerate the Balkans’ integration process, the region of tremendous potential. Commenting on Russia’s interference in the internal affairs of Montenegro, Escobar said that the United States would respond diplomatically and politically in working to isolate those forces that really do not want a sovereign and democratic Montenegro.

He makes a distinction between pro-Russian and pro-Serbian forces. Pro-Serbian forces in Montenegro should recognize that Montenegro needs to be democratic, independent, sovereign, and West-focused, and remain part of NATO, Escobar said, adding that for those parties that are working to undermine those aspect of Montenegro, which has been a success over the last 25 years, the United States have a lot of ways to respond, some of those are sanctions, political isolation, and engagement with those who have the capacity to isolate such parties in Montenegro as well.

He confirmed that at the latest NATO Summit, though unofficially, there were concerns that it was dangerous to share all information with the new Government in Podgorica, adding that the concerns are real and that they should be taken very seriously by the Montenegrin people. NATO has a mechanism on which he can share or withhold information, but every government should be aware that this is something that weakens the government and the country.

Escobar agrees that the current situation in the Balkans is a lot similar to that of the 90s when ethnic tensions were sprouted and when there were lots of people who wanted to create political opportunities for themselves through these tensions. When you look at all of the positive things that have happened in the Balkans from the Dayton through last month, everything in that period and everything positive and everything dynamic is happened through European and American partnership, he said.

Therefore, we say to our European partners to accelerate the integration process; that is the reason way the Balkans have always been a big part of our agenda with Europe when we speak to them, Escobar said. He is convinced that Europe would understand the enormous potential of the Balkans and that three years from now, this region would become more prosperous.

Montenegro is not far from the date of accession to the European Union (EU), said the rapporteur of the European Parliament for Montenegro, Vladimir Bilcik, adding that Montenegrin politicians should show that they are ready to endure reforms.
It will not be a problem for Montenegro to enter the Union if it does everything it needs to do. That country has opened many chapters, but now it needs to close them, Bilcik said at a 2BS forum on a panel dedicated to the Western Balkans.
He said there was not enough fundamental progress, which was needed to close the chapter.
This is a concern that we share and what we will talk about in Strasbourg, during the discussion on the enlargement package, Bilcik said.
He stated that the most important thing is for Montenegro to show that its institutions are functioning, adding that the Union is to be of help.
However, there must be a clear sentiment, it is important for the desire for integration to be at the core of everything, said Bilcik. He said that, in the Union, integration is treated as a marathon. Reforms are part of a marathon where you have to run well. That is why Montenegrin politicians need to show that they are ready to endure reforms. This refers to the government and the opposition, but also the entire society, stated Bilcik.
He stated that it should raise awareness on the fact that the reforms will be difficult to implement, as well as that the issues regarding the reforms must not be the subject of disagreements and conflicts. As a great sympathizer of Montenegro, I would like to see things move in the right direction. We are ready to help in every possible way, said Bilcik.
He said that no country is closer to integration than Montenegro and that this should be reflected in all public discussions.
Bilik assessed that the future is in the hands of Montenegrin politicians, but also of the European Union.
“Uvijek pomno pratimo situaciju na Zapadnom Balkanu. Mi smo i dalje glavni strateški partner investitor i ne želimo da budemo skrajnuti od drugih zemalja, tu naročito mislim na Rusiju”, naveo je Bilčik.
We are always closely monitoring the situation in the Western Balkans. We are still the main strategic partner investor and we do not want to be excluded from other countries, I think especially of Russia, stated Bilcik.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro, Djordje Radulovic, stated that, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, all the countries of the Eastern bloc declared their pro-Western orientation.
Most countries in the Western Balkans have done the same. We are moving towards European integration, not because I want it, but because the whole society wants it , said Radulovic.
He stated that the course of Montenegro does not change, regardless of the change of government.
I don’t think that the Balkans is a gunpowder keg, nor that Montenegro is a fuse on that keg. The foreign policy of this country has remained the same. We are still a reliable and credible NATO partner , Radulovic pointed out.
He said that the current government is fighting against corruption and organized crime, which, as he assessed, are as dangerous for stability and security as radicalization.
He stated that he knows that there are no shortcuts on the path towards the European Union, adding that Europeans should focus on deeds, not words.
Europeans need to be more assertive when it comes to our path to the Union. After 30 years, we have changed the government and normally a little delay is expected, before we move in the right direction , concluded Radulovic.
The Minister of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Selmo Cikotic, also spoke at the panel. He pointed out that the fact is that some ideologies and policies fight for territories in the Balkans, but that we must also admit that our countries are losing young people.
Cikotic stated that greater responsibility of state leaders is necessary, especially towards citizens and the state. According to him, the citizens of the Western Balkans are losing confidence in state leaders, which is evident.
The Minister of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina said that the tendencies for certain neighboring countries to take away a part of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina represents a formula that is repeated throughout history, and which has never been true.
Cikotic believes that the idea of the Serbian world or Greater Serbia is a call for a new crisis, destabilization, and a new migration of people from this area.

The Government will work on everything that was assessed as negative in the report and will try to eliminate the shortcomings to the satisfaction of all citizens, said the Prime Minister of Montenegro, Zdravko Krivokapic.

The most important elements are in Chapters 23 and 24, and you state that the best results were recorded in Chapter 24, Krivokapic said on the 2bs forum. However, the Prime Minister pointed out that it is wrong to attribute all the success to only one person when it comes to this chapter, and not to the entire Government. I think that it is a wrong approach to state and single out the names of individuals, because then it seems that someone is trying to present this Government as dysfunctional.

Krivkapic said that he did not agree with the thesis, which is often mentioned in various reports, that the church is the focus of the work of this Government.

That is by no means not true. We are only pointing to our legacy, and that legacy was related to bad legislation that aimed to endanger the property of the church, Krivokapic said.

According to Krivokapic, someone has consciously raised the issue of the church in the last 10 months, so it has become an instrument in the hands of the media. The government is working with citizens to show them that the rule of law and the fight against organized crime and corruption are the focus of our European path, he added.

The Prime Minister also referred to the work of the previous Government, which, according to him, did not touch on key areas such as the judiciary and captured institutions.

I want Montenegro to be strong through strong institutions that will be independent, impartial, and oriented towards its citizens, investors, and all those interested. Montenegro is the state of all its citizens, Krivokapić pointed out.

He added that regardless of the coalition he heads, he wants Montenegro to be guided by democracy and democratic principles.

Answering questions about the security sector, Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic pointed out that we now have a very qualified person at the head of this sector, and he has just returned from one of the most respected countries in Europe. It is crucial that this Government is pro-European and pro-NATO oriented, and that we have no other way, he added.

Krivokapic also commented on a possible government reconstruction. He believes that it is not a matter of reconstruction, but improvement of this Government. This Government is a successful Government, which confirms our work, and thanks to the visionary approach that Montenegro should be Europe now and here, Krivokapić said. He believes that it is necessary to strengthen the civil characteristic of this state.

In the end, Krivokapic concluded that we need to stop talking about great political differences and unite.

When it comes to the Western Balkan region, NATO policy, including the open-door policy, helps strengthen the stability and cooperation in the Western Balkans, said NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană at the 11th 2BS Forum.

In the introduction, he thanked the Atlantic Council of Montenegro and congratulated for 15 years of committed work on the strengthening of democracy, security, and stability in Montenegro and the region. Deputy Secretary General particularly emphasized that NATO will continue to support the Euro-Atlantic integration of the region.

According to him, Montenegro is a prominent ally and he commended the presence of the Montenegrin mission in Afghanistan and the peace-support mission in Kosovo. As he stated, this contributes to the stability of the Western Balkans, region of a strategic importance to NATO.

For long-term peace and stability in the region, constant efforts and guidance are needed. All countries respectively have a role in preserving democracy and the rule of law, together with a good neighboring relation, said Geoană.

Progress in all these fields is a key for the complete integration of this important part of Europe in the Euro-Atlantic family. The region can count on NATO’s support to its Euro-Atlantic aspirations and path towards more secure and prosperous future for all, he added.

Speaking about the NATO mission in Kosovo, NATO Deputy Secretary General emphasized that stability is the key of the mission and that he supported the European Union dialogue, aiming at the normalization of Belgrade-Pristina relations. Stability has been the key of our Kosovo mission for twenty years, he said, emphasizing the great cooperation that NATO has with the EU when it comes to Kosovo.

He reflected on the Russian and Chinese actions. A lot of challenges are ahead of us, strategic competition is rising, Russia is increasingly repressive internally and externally, Russian military hybrid activities are destabilizing our societies and institutions and weakening our democratic systems and trust of our citizens on the way forward.

China is using economic and military power to control its people, other countries, world resources, and infrastructure, also in our region. Beijing is investing in the ports, railway infrastructure and has a strong media presence in the Western Balkans.

To sum up, Geoană said that the cooperation between allies sharing our values such as democracy, freedom, rule of law, human rights is crucial. The closer we cooperate, the chances to succeed in protecting the democratic lifestyle from those who want to hurt us are bigger, stated NATO Deputy Secretary General.

President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic assessed that Russia’s goal was not to jeopardize primarily Montenegro, but the Western values and to undermine the West itself, while Montenegro was just a fertile ground for that.

While participating at the 11th 2BS Forum, he said that the comments about Montenegrin politics having gotten Russia through the front door in the Western Balkans and Montenegro being the sole culprit of its today’s situation were false.

While reminding that only two big Russian investments have been made in Montenegro, with only one being a success, the Montenegrin President said that Montenegro had its state politics, which had not been influenced by Russia.

He believes that the current situation in the Western Balkans has largely been contributed by Brussels’s reluctance to continue with the European integration process and messages that have been blurring the European perspective of the Balkan countries.

Brussels blamed us for not carrying out enough reforms, while we blamed them for slowing down the integration process; therefore, today, we have a situation where stability and not the European perspective is on our agenda. I have always emphasized that there is a big and quality equal sign between stability and the European integration process, he said, adding that we testify that as soon as the European relations are weakened, the third countries interfere with their own plans.

Djukanovic pointed out that the presence of the third countries opened the door to growing nationalism to the point that nowadays we speak about the creation of nationalistic greater state constructs, nationally and religiously homogenous, which should be created at the expenses of North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Claiming that he has never asked for the regional counties to become the EU member states before the criteria were met, he said that he asked for the integration processes not to be halted since the Balkan countries cannot ensure stability themselves.

Answering the question about him being responsible for the current position of the Serbian President, Djukanovic said that such claims had come from former Serbian President Boris Tadic who, having lost the elections, tried to pass the responsibility to Montenegro.

What happened there is that the impotent nationalism of Boris Tadic is being replaced with aggressive nationalism of Aleksandar Vucic, and together, they have been resting upon the politics that is based on the need allegedly to protect Serbs in the region and their rights, the Montenegrin President said highlighting that the goal of such politics is to undermine the regional stability.

Referring to the recently held Non-Aligned Summit in Belgrade, Djukanovic ironically commented that the most important thing we found out was that Russia supports Serbia.

While commenting on the internal affairs in Montenegro, Djukanovic said that the current state of affairs was not long-term and that the elections were the only right way to come out of it.

This Government is not functional and, having in mind the coalitional character of its constituents, it cannot be functional, and none reshuffle can ameliorate the situation, the Montenegrin President estimated, noting that smaller partners always realize that they have been swallowed by the larger ones.

He believes that the post-election reality brought important knowledge about the Serbian Orthodox Church being an instrument of the Greater Serbia politics, serving to destabilize the neighboring countries and that the pre-election processions were not a movement against allegedly infringed religious rights.

Djukanovic reminded that the pro-European majority in Montenegro was dominant and that it should consolidate. His Democratic Party of Socialists is rising the rating level and according to him, the decision made at the Congress to open the door for a whole new generation of young politicians proved to be right. He said that he was not afraid of divisions in society and that he believed that he was still able to contribute to the creation of better politics in Montenegro.