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.

Montenegro cannot and must not allow Serbia, Russia, China one day, or any other country to govern our country, a NATO member state, said the President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro Savo Kentera while opening the 11th 2BS Forum.
Kentera said that this is not only about us anymore, but the whole Alliance and protection of its interests, as well as protection of each NATO member state’s national interests.

He particularly emphasized that we must not allow Montenegro to become an example of causing instability, social divisions, and chaos through the spreading of fake news, intensive disinformation campaign and, generally speaking, malign influence implemented through political parties, individuals, NGO sector, or similar.
What is happening in Montenegro today may become a pattern tomorrow- any member state may be presented as a factor of instability and divisions within NATO. This is not and cannot be in the interest of anyone within the Alliance, he warned.
Pointing out to the fact that during the previous years a particular ambiance was created, resulted in deep divisions backed by a foreign factor, and led us to where we are now, Kentera emphasized that the only way to oppose such condition is to strengthen the institutions of the system.
We need to have the Government that would be capable to close all Chapters with the EU as soon as possible, that will work to make Montenegro the EU member in a couple of years, instead of receiving negative reports from the EU on the other hand. We need the Government that would be engaged in attracting foreign investors and not cause their outflow from Montenegro, the Government that will take care of its citizens and better quality of life instead of adopting or announcing populist measures that it knows are not realistic, Government that would never allow for those who prefer some other country to Montenegro to infiltrate into the security sector. And, the most important, the Government that would support Montenegrin NATO membership not only declaratively, but actively contribute to the strengthening of the Alliance and all its members, the President of the ACM emphasized.
At the same time, he emphasized that the future of our country and the region is only in our hands.
If we themselves do not do something to fight all the threats to the Western civilizational values, in that case, we cannot expect to move forward, he said, expressing the belief that we have enough strength, will, and wisdom to set Montenegro and the region back on the right path.
Reflecting on the whole path of Montenegro, from the independence to nowadays, Kentera said that progress is obvious in many areas. We became a NATO member and therefore, rose the security to the highest level, attracted many investors who saw Montenegro as an exceptional opportunity to invest their capital in the long term. We elevated the level of rule of law, adopting numerous laws in accordance with the EU directives, opened all the Chapters and closed the three of them.
However, there are some areas where a lot more could have been done, first of all, in the field of education, culture, strengthening of the institutions’ independence, Kentera said, adding that the consequences caused by the lack of attention to these areas are visible today.
Commenting on the situation in the region, the President of the ACM emphasized that today, we are in a more difficult situation than we were a couple of years ago. In that context, he mentioned the path that Serbia took – from the constructive factor of peace and stability in the region to the country that compromises the stability of the Western Balkans, due to the political decisions of its leaders.
Unfortunately, today we have a completely different picture. Instead of being the factor of stability in the region, Serbia seems to be returning to the 90s politics, but this time using sophisticated methods, covered by democracy and protection of Serbs in the region. We are witnessing the events in Kosovo and other countries in the region these days. However, the most prominent example of disruption of good neighborhood relations is reflected in the example of Montenegro, said Kentera.
He wondered if Serbia is pursuing such policy due to the election that it needs to gain or to cause instability in the region, or for the interests that Russia wants to achieve in the region while not exposing itself and its people, taught by the poor lessons< from the previous years?

The eleventh 2BS FORUM, one of the leading politico-security conferences in Southeast Europe, organized by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, will take place on October 15, 2021.
This year, the Atlantic Council of Montenegro celebrates 15 years of dedicated work on strengthening democracy, security, and stability in Montenegro and the region. In order to support and advocate for these ideas, the Forum, as the leading conference of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro and the leading event in the SEE, gathers Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers, MPs, diplomats, representatives of international organizations, and the security experts from both sides of the Atlantic, who will discuss the regional and global trends and challenges.
Adapting to the conditions and complying with the COVID-19 preventive measures, the 2BS Forum will be organized this year again in a hybrid format, which implies the organization of the event with the most prominent participants present on-site, in accordance with the restrictions and measures for organizing indoor events. Along with this, it is planned that the speakers from abroad will join via online platforms. You would be able to follow the 2BS Forum live on our official channels.

We are delighted to introduce the second issue of our ACM Briefs, published in August 2021. These Policy Briefs are a part of the bigger project funded by the Balkan Trust for Democracy (GMF) and USAID aimed at providing laser-sharp insights into the political and social trends in the region, strengthening dialogue and presenting concrete policy recommendations regarding pressing international and security issues in the Western Balkans. The purpose of this specific Policy Brief is to provide an overview of China’s role in the Western Balkans. In the past decade, the country has become one of the most prominent external actors in this part of the European Union’s neighborhood. China is increasingly expanding its influence and presence in the region, supported by its Belt and Road Initiative and 16+1 format. The political, economic, and societal implications of the coronavirus pandemic together with the global power centers’ shift and China’s remarkable economic expansion inevitably influence the Western Balkan region as the interests and influences of many actors collide. China is exploiting the geopolitical ambivalence of many Western capitals while trying to acquire real leverage over policy choices, political attitudes, and narratives in some parts of the Western Balkans.

Despite all the uncertainties, the retrograde trends, and the slowdown in progress, the Western Balkan countries, the EU, the US, and NATO stand a real chance of developing a clear and shared vision for the region based on supporting the necessary reforms, Milica Pejanovic Djurisic says in her presentation of the Western Balkans Security Report at the round table.

The participants of the round table discussion on the global events affecting the Western Balkans were the representatives of the diplomatic corps.

Recalling a series of crises that face the world and its consequences for the Western Balkan countries, Pejanovic Djurisic highlights that the Western Balkans are, once again, at a crossroads of different geopolitical aspirations.

The liberal democracy is in crisis, while the Western values are being brought into question, the region is vulnerable, and security has not been ensured, she stresses. The Report, therefore, particularly highlights the necessity for NATO to create a new vision, and for the EU, which, so far, has showed not enough firm intentions to be actively involved in resolving the issues, to adapt its approach.

According to her, it is of key importance to establish an effective dialogue between the US and the EU which would result in an agreement on their shared strategy for the Western Balkans.

Recalling that the Western Balkan region was once considered a successful example of US foreign policy, she highlights that the new administration in Washington has demonstrated its renewed interest in the region, and, especially, that it would engage in its unresolved issues.

Russia used all vulnerabilities in the West, and, as the permanent member of the Security Council, can block all the processes in the region, Pejanovic Djurisic says. Considering its strong political and historical ties established with the region in the past, Russia has been perceived as an important partner, and now it is asserting itself as an energy and trade partner, as well as an investor. The Report particularly stresses that Russia’s soft power has gained in intensity.

According to Pejanovic Djurisic, this has been particularly relevant in the case of Montenegro, during the years both preceding and following the preparation phase for the full NATO membership, with Russia exerting its influence through the Serbian Orthodox Church, insisting on the Pan-Slavic identity, and expanding the network of the interconnected and biased media, and disinformation campaigns. The region is susceptible to Russia’s soft power, which has become dominant, because of its weak institutions, lack of information, and low level of media and functional literacy, she says.

The Report indicates that China’s approach, unlike Russia’s, is based on the economy and its position as an important infrastructure partner. The countries are courted with attractive arrangments which eventually lead to substantial debts. However, it is encouraging that this influence tactic has been revealed, Pejanovic Djurisic highlights.

Regarding the influence of Turkey, which is perceived by the countries in the region as an ally, and their successful economic cooperation, but, in her opinion, the fact that it has been reshaping its foreign policy in recent years, should be considered with close attention.

The European Union, as the most important partner of the region considering its European perspective, must show no hesitancy and not slow down the integration process, which could, as Pejanovic Djurisic warns, negatively affect the fulfillment of strategic orientation in their foreign and security policy, and their geopolitical goals.

While portraying the situation in the Western Balkans, she says that their respective civil societies are still not sufficiently developed nor structured and are susceptible to political influence,  while several countries’ media are under the strong influence of certain economic and political groups.

Manipulating fears of different ethnic groups and their mutual differences presents an instrument of the political organization, while religion is the most important criterion for defining national identity. In addition, none of these countries possess the sufficiently developed capacities to respond to emergency situations.

Another major weakness of the region is its high susceptibility to disinformation and fake news which have gained in intensity, she highlights. The Report indicates that Serbia is the main proving ground for Russia in accomplishing its interests through media, officials, and activists, Pejanovic Djurisic says.

In this context, she gives a particularly example-a direct meddling into Montenegro’s internal relations by Serbia, which, following Russia’s soft power model, uses propaganda, spreading of disinformation, and fake news aimed at providing support to their preferable actors on the political and the NGO scene in Montenegro.

Recalling the key regional problems, that have security implications, Pejanovic Djurisic indicates the unresolved Serbia-Albania relations concerning the status of Kosovo, and the dysfunctionality of the Dayton constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose existence is increasingly brought into question. Security challenges, such as organized crime, terrorism, and violent extremism has emerged as the consequences of the overall processes in the region.

The only way to respond to these challenges is by improving the overall efficacy of the security activities combined with a clear political will, she concludes.

The Report of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro analyzes the situation in the Western Balkan countries respectively, as well as their susceptibility to different influences.

Concerning the situation in Montenegro, the Reports argues that it was to be expected that the end of the long, one-party rule would bring numerous problems and challenges in a political, economic, and social context.

However, the circumstances and the platform for the change transformed Montenegro from the stability anchor, the leader in EU integration process, and the NATO member to the example of the most successful thrust of the Russian-Serbian policy into the Western Balkans, the Report states.

It turns out that the fight against President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic was motivated by his betrayal of Greater Serbia, rather than by his autocratic rule, while the alleged fight against crime, that transformed into revanchism within the state administration, has revealed the intention to delegitimize Montenegro’s independence and Euro-Atlantic path portraying this country as a criminal formation under the veil of the fight against crime.

The Report states that both independent and impartial journalism and NGOs are facing a major crisis. The critics of the former government have become parties’ mouthpieces, while some have even become the key shareholders in the current ruling green party URA.

The employment based on the affiliation to one political party has been replaced by the affiliation to another party, followed by the persecution of the political opponents, while the state has been borrowing at the highest interest rates. China’s loan for the instruction of the highway section drastically increased the public debt, posing a major challenge for public finances.

The Report stresses that the former government attempted to resolve the issues concerning the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) in Montenegro too late and that this opened up the door for Serbia and the Serbian Orthodox Church to meet their political interests via the platform for resolving the issue of social injustice due to systemic corruption. For the first time since the introduction of the multi-party system, a new government was elected, in whose meeting with the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Ostrog Monastery the DPS was left out.

The formation of the Government in Podgorica has recently served as proof to the war participants and advocators that, by directly interfering in the political and electoral life at the financial, media, intelligence, and logistic level, the Serbian world can be possible even in peacetime, the report states.

After the end of the representation of the Report, the representatives of the diplomatic corps joined the discussion. The contribution of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro to the development of security and democracy in not only Montenegro but in the region as well has been particularly stressed.  

The U.S. Ambassador to Montenegro Judy Rising Reinke praises the initiative of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro to produce the Western Balkans Security Report, adding that the Report addresses the key issues, as well as the security challenges and situation in the Western Balkans. She highlights that the Western Balkan region is very important to the United States which will continue its cooperation with the EU toward the path of the full integration of the Western Balkan countries into the Euro-Atlantic community. Concerning Montenegro and its challenges, the U.S. Ambassador believes that the reemergence of the ethnically charged nationalistic divisions should be collectively addressed.

Ambassador of Kosovo Yiber Hyisa stresses the importance of the Report especially considering the current situation in the Western Balkans. The redrawing of the borders, envisioned by the Serbian world project, could have negative implications for the region, he states.

Ambassador of the Republic of Slovakia Boris Gandel that nationalism poses a great threat, recalling the events from the past. The history is repeating itself, and we are witnessing, once again, the rising nationalism in the region, he added.

In response to the question of the Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina how powerful is the foreign influence and whether it will intensify or not in the future, Milica Pejanovic Djurisic says that a significant number of people believed that once Montenegro joins NATO, other countries’ influences in Montenegro will be limited.  As already stressed in Report, she repeats that the foreign influence in the Western Balkan countries is directed against Brussel and the transatlantic community.

We are delighted to introduce the first issue of our ACM Briefs, published in July 2021. These Policy Briefs are a part of the bigger project funded by the Balkan Trust for Democracy (GMF) and USAID aimed at providing laser-sharp insights into the political and social trends in the region, strengthen dialogue, present concrete policy recommendations regarding pressing international and security issues in the Western Balkans. The purpose of this specific Policy Brief is to provide an overview of the current Western Balkan position in the European and Euro-Atlantic affairs, countries’ aspirations towards EU integration, and the EU’s standing regarding the region’s future. The political, economic, and societal implications of the coronavirus pandemic together with the new U.S. Administration in the House, global power centers’ shift followed by a stronger geopolitical influence of Russian and Chinese authoritarian regimes and Europe’s attempt to navigate the changing international order, rising nationalism, and receding democracy can all destabilize the region and slow down the Western Balkan countries’ path toward the EU and NATO.

The Atlantic Council of Montenegro has prepared the Western Balkans Security Report, a comprehensive overview of major security policy challenges and analyses across carefully selected themes that concern national and security in the Western Balkan region. The project is supported by the NATO PDD. The Atlantic Council of Montenegro will organize the Round table discussion in order to sum up the findings and conclusions of the Report enabling the platform for further evaluation of the current state of play, immediate security challenges and areas that require strengthened cooperation. The Round table discussion will focus on identifying and pointing at burning challenges, that Montenegro and the Western Balkan region are facing as well as the global shifts and rivalry that inevitably influence the stability and security of the region.
This Round table discussion will also set the scene and provide an introductory framework for the main flagship event of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro – 2BS Forum.

Program – 10:00am-11:00am – Presentation of Western Balkan Security Report followed by open discussion

11:00am-11:30am – Coffee Break

Introduction – Azra Karastanović, Atlantic Council of Montenegro

Speaker – Milica Pejanović, Atlantic Council of Montenegro

Participants – Representative of diplomatic corps

Language – English

Media – National media coverage as well as social media coverage

Event will be live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube.

The Western Balkan should commit itself to the West and democracy, the participants concluded in the Online Discussion which was organized by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro.

The participants in the panel discussion on the topic 2021 NATO Summit- Outcomes and implications for the Western Balkans were Vice President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro Ranko Krivokapic, former President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, Director of the Europe Center within the US Atlantic Council Benjamin Haddad, former Permanent Representative of Italy to NATO and the Brussels Director of Project Associates Stefano Stefanini. The panel discussion was moderated by President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro Savo Kentera.

Vice President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro Ranko Krivokapic notes that the US President’s statement that America is back is particularly important for the Western Balkan. Krivokapic highlights that in the last four years Russia’s and China’s presence has been strong not only in the Western Balkan but in the rest of Europe as well. He adds that Biden’s activities undertaken so far, especially his executive order from June 8, have shown that he and his administration are completely aware of what is going on in the Balkans. Commenting on the current situation in Montenegro, the former President of the Montenegrin Parliament says that Montenegro was thought to be the example of stability in the Western Balkan, whereas today it has turned into something completely different.

The former President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic highlights that the geopolitical situation in the world, including the Western Balkan, has significantly changed. The era dominated by the US was followed by the new rivalry among the four players- the US, the EU, Russia, and China, she says. In her opinion, in a situation like that, it is necessary to create a new strategy adapted to the emerging circumstances and challenges. When it comes to the Western Balkans, the majority of the population of the Western Balkan countries perceive NATO and the EU as the right choice, the former President of Croatia said.

Director of the Europe Center within the US Atlantic Council Benjamin Haddad highlights that  Biden’s administration has shown a new level of commitment to transatlantic relationships. According to him, it cannot be expected for the trust between the US and the EU that had been destroyed during the previous period to be restored overnight. However, he is encouraged by the fact that Biden’s administration, even when focused on the internal issues of the US, always takes into account the international factors. He also comments on the US-Russia relationship. He believes that since the US administration expects no major shifts regarding the relationships with Russia, its goal is to stabilize their mutual relationships and make them predictable.

Former Permanent Representative of Italy to NATO and the Brussels Director of Project Associates Stefano Stefanini says that after the Summit, NATO knows exactly in which direction to go. Regarding the Western Balkan, he believes that this region is no longer at the center of NATO’s attention. However, the reasons behind that, in his opinion, are the success of NATO in that region and the fact that only two Western Balkan countries are not NATO members.

This is the first out of five online discussions organized by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro within the project 2BS Forum 365. This project is supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy (of the German Marshall Fund) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The complete online discussion is available on our website, the official Facebook Page, and our YouTube channel as well.