The Atlantic Council of Montenegro is glad to be part of the consortium of partners from the Western Balkan and Visegrad countries, in implementation of the project „Increasing awareness of the hybrid threats: Strengthening resilience in the Western Bakans“, supported by the International Visegrad Fund.

The aim of the project is to strengthen the resilience of the civil society members from the WB region. Society in the WB appears to be vulnerable to the influence of propaganda, disinformation, and hybrid threats that undermine the democratization process and stability in the region. Through the mobilization and activation of CSOs in the WB, the critical thinking of people will be strengthen, but more importantly, it will raise awareness about disinformation, especially in the online space.

The goal of the project is to create a network of active future leaders from CSOs who will act as multipliers in their communities, thus addressing hybrid threats and disinformation in the Western Balkans. The main objective is to activate and strengthen the capacities of young leaders from CSOs who aspire to become visible actors in the fight against disinformation and third-party propaganda.

The hybrid threat associated with the dissemination of disinformation and propaganda by third actors is a regional problem that can be more effectively addressed through international cooperation and the exchange of experiences and best practices with other actors. The V4 countries involved in the project share many similarities when it comes to the problem of spreading disinformation, especially in the online space. The root causes or root causes of the hybrid threats in question are very similar.

The project uniquely combines the extensive experience of the implementers and their Visegrad partners -in working with NGO/CSO communities, with extensive expertise in working with vulnerable communities threatened by disinformation, propaganda and hybrid threats, and (3) with the extensive experience of some of the Visegrad partners working to refute/debunk disinformation and malicious fake news on the internet using facts, common sense and a healthy dose of critical thinking.

Participants in this project will gain knowledge and tools in an interactive way.

The project is led by the Euro-Atlantic Council of North Macedonia, together with 9 partners from the Western Balkan and V4 countries: Strategic Analysis SK, Asociace pro mezinárodní otázky/Association for International Affairs, KIPRED, Youth Atlantic Treaty Association of Albania, Institute of Central Europe, Atlantic Council of Montenegro, Atlantic Council of Srbije, CEID and FSI.

The Atlantic Council of Montenegro presents the second Western Balkan Security Report as a comprehensive overview of the geopolitical environment and security challenges that concern national, regional, and global security, and have strong implications for the Western Balkan region. The report aims to further stimulate the discussion on the key elements of the security situation in the Western Balkans and to see how different global geopolitical challenges are reflected in the region. The report is also an introduction to the annual 2BS Forum conference organized by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, where numerous security issues identified in this publication will be discussed.

We are witnessing how the security challenges in the world and the region are building up into a growing wave of crises that reinforce each other. In the conditions of war in Europe and the threat of a major military conflict, the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, with its 16-year experience, considers it necessary to create a report that focuses on the analysis of the Western Balkans, as a region that has found itself at the center of growing geopolitical competition and where once again the interests of various external actors manifest and collide, and by expanding their influence, they seek to achieve their geopolitical aspirations. The Report analyzes geopolitical circumstances and global power changes, the effects of the war in Ukraine, the role and importance of NATO due to new and growing security challenges that inevitably affect the Western Balkan region, then the role of the EU and the perspective of membership, as well as the presence, influence, and role of non-democratic external actors (countries) in this region. Also, compared to last year’s edition, the Report provides an overview and analyzes the changed political, security, and economic conditions in each of the six countries in the Western Balkans.

Finally, the Report offers an overview of specific recommendations for both regional and Western decision-makers in order to create a common vision of the region based on support for reforms and concrete results that should ultimately contribute to the stability, security, and economic development of the Western Balkans.

The complete report can be found and downloaded HERE.

At the session of the Assembly of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, changes in the governing structure of the organization were noted. The mandate of the long-serving President of the Atlantic Council, Savo Kentera, has terminated due to his election to the position of Director of the National Security Agency. The Assembly also notes the termination of the mandate of the current Vice President of the Atlantic Council, Ranko Krivokapić, due to taking over the position of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro.

Kentera’s remarkable contribution to the development of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro over the past 15 years was highlighted. Under his mandate the Atlantic Council has become one of Montenegro’s leading think-tanks dedicated to regional peace and security, emphasizing NATO’s strategic importance for the stability of the entire European and Euro-Atlantic area, including the Western Balkan region.

The Atlantic Council congratulates Kentera and Krivokapić on taking over state positions in this very important transitional moment for Montenegro, believing that they will make a significant contribution to protecting Montenegro’s national interests and strengthening its international reputation in their new capacities.

A new member, Vlatko Cvrtila, joins the renewed structure of the Governing Board of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro consisting of Milica Pejanović-Đurišić, Sharyl Cross, and John Allen, while Azra Karastanović will represent the Atlantic Council of Montenegro as the Executive Director.

In the future, the Atlantic Council will continue to strongly advocate for the democratic development of Montenegro and Montenegrin society on the Euro-Atlantic and EU path. It will continue to respect and strengthen Western values, making even greater efforts to improve the understanding, importance, and role of the NATO Alliance, which brought peace to the Western Balkan region as well as security to Montenegro.

For the sixth issue of our ACM Briefs, published in May 2022, we would like to introduce a study on War in Ukraine and Russian action towards Western Balkan. 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.

Policy Brief gives an overview of how Russian war in Ukraine can affect the Western Balkans. Russia is exploiting Moldova, Georgia, and the Western Balkans as potential new avenues to undermine Europe where Russia resorts to its well-known playbook of exploiting existing divisions and exacerbating secessionist tensions. The war in Ukraine also has an impact on the Western Balkans and the West should look for early warnings in the information space, as they are good indicators of Russia’s moves. Understanding these operations is essential in shaping an appropriate response from the West. That response must actively challenge and counter Russia’s information operations in the Western Balkans.

The complete Brief is available here

The events in 2022 showed a greater degree of readiness of the West to oppose Russian hybrid action, is the conclusion from the Online discussion organized by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro.

Ivana Stradner, Advisor to the foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and journalist Biljana Jovicević participated in the panel on the topic of Russian disinformation activities in the Balkans. The panel was moderated by Milan Jovanović from the Digital Forensic Center.

Ivana Stradner said that Russia has not lost the information war, pointing to the offensive information operations that the country is conducting around the world, in regions where its strategic interests exist. She stated that Russia conducts its information operations in Africa and Asia, but also in the United States and Europe. Information warfare exists in the Balkans and can be very dangerous because it completely polarizes society and raises tensions that could further escalate, Stradner said.

She also pointed out the specificity of the Russian understanding of hybrid warfare, which implies a combination of information operations and kinetic use of force that, according to her, was clearly shown on the example of Ukraine. In that context, she especially emphasized the implementation of a hybrid strategy within Russia itself, in which, as she assessed, there is media darkness. Stradner believes that Vladimir Putin uses such an internal environment to achieve long-term goals of Russia’s foreign policy – delegitimization of NATO, overthrowing the international liberal order and establishing a multipolar world where Russia would sit at the same table with the United States and China.

Speaking about the Western Balkans, she pointed out that Russia does not aim to occupy the region militarily, but to occupy its information space. In order to prevent that, Stradner emphasizes the importance of detecting such influence, but also the existence of will, as well as partner support in its suppression.

From the point of view of the journalistic profession, Biljana Jovićević spoke about the network of Russian media proxies in Montenegro and the region, noting that Russia is much more successful in conducting propaganda in relation to the conventional war. She believes that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has shown the right editorial policy of some of the most influential media in Montenegro, which are controlled by the funding from Serbia, and which operate in such a small market for political reasons. Jovicević said that Russian influence was indirectly spreading through the Serbian media, whose editorial policy was adjusted to the Russian narrative. Among them, in her opinion, the IN4S portal is leading as a classic Russian-Serbian newspaper that experienced its rise in Montenegro with the mixing of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and Serbian and Russian political actors in internal political events. Other media she cites are the Borba portal, whose editorial policy she sees as similar but less aggressive, as well as Serbian tabloids, which have significant support in Montenegro. She also identifies the media that tried to take a neutral position in the context of the war in Ukraine, but gradually adjusted to the official position of the West, and cites the National Public Service as an example.

Jovicević believes that Montenegro should be viewed as part of a comprehensive Russian strategy for the Balkans, which aims to have an alternative battlefield and, consequently, undermine the political unity of the European Union and NATO. She estimates that this strategy had some success in the case of Montenegro, but that the invasion of Ukraine resulted in regrouping of forces within the European Union and NATO and their significant attention to this area.

Milan Jovanović emphasized that, despite the fact that there is no officially registered Russian media in Montenegro, Russian propaganda is almost equally strong. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the activities of certain media in Montenegro intensified and consistently synchronized with the views of the Russian and Serbian media. Drawing a parallel between the Russian and Serbian media, Jovanović said that, unlike Russia, where there is obviously censorship, in Serbia, despite the free flow of information, tabloids have a great influence on forming the attitudes of citizens. Jovanović concluded that the current global crisis has highlighted the importance of NATO and Montenegrin membership in the Alliance, further highlighting internal weaknesses that reflect Montenegrin political, national and social fragmentation and the continued interference of malignant influence from the outside.

“Masks have fallen and everyone has shown their faces in Montenegro, but we have also seen the faces of other countries. We have seen who the real allies of Montenegro are, and now we know very well what we can count on in the period ahead. ” said the President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, Savo Kentera, at a conference organized by the Center for Foreign Policy and the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The topic of the conference was Western Balkans in the context of the war in Ukraine.

Kentera pointed out that the previous government had shown no sincere intentions about Montenegro’s pro-Western orientation, and that the delay in imposing sanctions on Russia over its aggression against Ukraine was an indication of that. As he says, it revealed everything we knew and what we warned about from the Atlantic Council. According to him, August 30, 2020 is still considered one of the best things that happened to Montenegro because, in addition to the change of government, we realized how much potential Montenegro has and how much it was ahead in the EU integrations compared to other countries, and “how much we suddenly began to stagnate and stay behind the others and how close we were to Russia at one point.”

The war in Ukraine exposed the intentions of certain parties, individuals, and countries in relation to Montenegro and the Balkans, “so now we can, it seems to me, much easier and more decisively enter into a formation of a government that must be, above all, a completely pro-Western, pro-European, and a pro-NATO government, which will not leave anyone in any dilemma when it comes to Montenegro. “

Montenegro wants the best relations with everyone, and as Kentera states, “if someone does not want to build such relations with Montenegro, and if someone wants to pursue their interests that conflict with the interests of Montenegro and the interests of NATO, and to carry it into effect here, then they must get an adequate answer for it. “
Commenting on the formation of the new government, the president of the Atlantic Council said that Montenegro paid the price by implementing the wrong policy for over a year and a half and that it was time for Montenegro to unequivocally make everyone aware of its pro-Western orientation. All those who think well for this country, who live in this country and who want to build their future here together with all the others who live here, and to really stand for a better future, then they are more than welcome to participate tomorrow in that government and to really contribute to a better quality of life in Montenegro. ” Kentera concluded.

For the fifth issue of our ACM Briefs, published in March 2022, we would like to introduce a study on War in Ukraine and implications for Montenegro’s EU membership. 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.

This Policy Brief gives an overview on the uncertainty over the future course of the EU enlargement policy in the Western Balkans region. After more than two decades of stabilization and accession process, and years of the stagnation of the EU integration dynamic, there are a few different opinions regarding the impact of war in Ukraine on that EU policy. The key question is the following: does the EU plan to extend its absorption capacities for the enlargement towards eastern neighbors or, on the contrary, to postpone them, through differentiated or staged accession for an undefined period? This question directly affects Montenegro’s accession in the EU, which is the focus of the brief. There is an optimistic conclusion that the EU’s 2025 enlargement agenda is still achievable for Montenegro, even though the country faces strong Russian influence and a very delicate political and social moment.

“I think we always have, in Montenegro, some difficult times when we are about to create some governance. Not because of the local elections, not because of some internal issues, but because this country needs a government as soon as possible.” Said Savo Kentera for Albanian Radio and Television, when asked about the negations for the new government.
Kentera reminded that, until recently, Montenegro was a NATO member country everybody could rely on, which is not the case at this moment and that Montenegro is in a state of blockade.

“Until recently Montenegro was one of the best examples that everybody can rely on us in the alliance. Today that’s not the case. Today we have a number of decisions in respect to NATO, and in respect to EU, which are still about to be made, and nothing is happening because we don’t have a government. That’s why we have to create a government as soon as possible.” Kentera said

Kentera pointed out that one of the best things that happened in Montenegro’s recent history is the NATO membership, especially considering the ongoing war in Ukraine. Still, as he emphasized, the Russian influence is, nonetheless, present in Montenegro.

“I could just imagine what the Russians would do here through their proxies if we were not a member of NATO. Thanks to that, they cannot intervene here by an army or by some big things as they did in Ukraine, but what they want to do, and I have no doubts about that it is to show that they are able to undermine a democratic system in Montenegro, to show that a NATO member country such as Montenegro can be destabilized. “The president of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro said that there are different Russian proxies in Montenegro, but the one that’s most important is the Serbian Orthodox Church.

When it comes to creating a new government, led by Dritan Abazović as a Prime Minister, Kentera was asked if he hopes that the new government would introduce sanctions against Russia.
“That shouldn’t be the question at all, because the new government must be a pro-European, a pro-Western, a pro-NATO government and nobody should have doubts about that. We are obliged here right now to create such a government. In that government, there is no place, for any pro-Russian elements.” Kentera said

He added that Montenegro lost its credibility over the last 15 months and that the country needs to be back on the settle.
“It’s crucial to have such a pro-NATO, pro-Western, and pro-European government. And of course, decisions regarding sanctions, decisions on Russia, decisions regarding everything what’s in align to our membership in the EU and to our obligations as a NATO member country, that’s something that nobody should question at all. So, whoever thinks to lead this country in the opposite direction or to gamble with that, or to try to avoid that, he cannot be a Prime Minister, and we don’t want that kind of government here.” Kentera concluded

The Atlantic Council of Montenegro strongly condemns the unjustified and unprovoked Russian attack on Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin once again showed his imperialist tendencies and chose the path of aggression against a sovereign and independent state.

This is a severe violation of the principles of international law and a serious threat to Euro-Atlantic security. The sole responsibility for the death and destruction that this attack will bring lies with Russia and its President.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not just an attack on a sovereign state, but a direct attack on democracy and its values. In order to protect his own authoritarian regime, Vladimir Putin is ready to endanger millions of lives. This horrible day for Ukraine and a dark day for Europe will have unforeseeable consequences, due to which the people of Ukraine and Russia will particularly suffer.

The fact is that Vladimir Putin will not stop in Ukraine. For that reason, special attention should be paid to the Western Balkans, which has proven to be a fertile ground for Russian operations. Putin will continue to destabilize this region and hinder its democratization and development.

For these reasons, it is crucial for NATO allies to show determination and strongly oppose the aggressor and the anti-democratic values that Putin is trying to impose on Ukraine, but also on the rest of Europe.

Also, at this critical moment, Montenegro must be a factor of stability in the Western Balkans that will lead the entire region on the path to the European Union. That is why it is of great importance to form a new European, pro-Western Government as soon as possible, which will stand up for the protection of Euro-Atlantic values, and which will oppose Russian influence both in the country and in the Western Balkans region.

President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro

Dr. Savo Kentera