Whoever thinks that Russian influence has weakened when Montenegro or Northern Macedonia accessed NATO, definitely does not know much about Russia or its functioning. Russian influence has just strengthened here during the last two years, assessed Savo Kenetera, the President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro.

In an interview for Oslobođenje, Kentera stated that Russia had a very well-conceived strategy and a very good game that they play wisely, using disinformation.

Last year before the election, we identified right here in Montenegro the best example of probably one of the biggest disinformation campaigns and hybrid war coming from Russia, which produced very good results. What happened to us, tomorrow may happen to any NATO member state and that is why everyone should learn from our mistakes, said Kentera.

President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro reflected on the benefits of Montenegrin NATO membership, repeating that the first results of the membership will be visible after five years.

However, Kentera says that some of the results occurred and were visible long before those five years. Above all, they reflected in a democratic government change. It’s something that no one in Montenegro could have imagined, Kentera added.

While commenting on the situation in the region, Kentera said that it is only when Bosnia and Herzegovina become a NATO member state as well as Serbia, i.e. when this story complete, that we can talk about the true stability of the whole region. Here, everything is very interlaced, just like in the case of communicating vessels. Therefore, it is important in that context that Bosnia and Herzegovina finally put an end to this issue. Until then, everything will be fragile. Kentera thinks that all parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be obliged, sooner or later, to consider what is the national interest and not just their personal one.

When it comes to Serbia, he said that this country had already realized that it could not play on two fronts, or in their case, on three. It is in the best interest of the Serbian citizens, and also of the whole region, that Serbia, as perhaps the most prominent factor in the Western Balkans in terms of stability and everything else, decides to build its future towards West, the ACM President thinks.

Kentera expressed his pleasure that the Balkans will be one of the new US administration’s priorities, since it has not been the case so far. That is why I expect from new administration, together with the EU, not to be passive but much more active, he concluded.

Click here to take a look at the 2BS Forum 2020 Summary which offers an overview of the keynote speeches and panels, but also the messages and conclusions from the Forum, held on December 11, 2020. in Podgorica.

In the last documentary of the set Journey to Safety, our interlocutors shared their personal experiences and reasons for departing to battlefields. The documentary brings a first-person story and firsthand experiences. We also talked with Dragan Pejovic, the National Coordinator for prevention and suppression of radicalization and extreme violence (2018-2020), and Hafiz Sulejmani Bugari from the Islamic Community of Montenegro, who explained the phenomenon of departing to battlefields, the approach to solving the issue of reintegration of returnees into Montenegrin society, mechanisms and methods of prevention of radicalization, as well as the importance and the role of dialogue.

The project has been supported by the Embassy of Canada.

The topic of the second documentary within the project Journey to Safety is migrants who have sought international protection in our country.

Watch emotional testimonies of people who have found their safety in Montenegro.

The project has been supported by the Embassy of Canada.

Watch the first out of three short documentaries within the project Journey to Safety. In this documentary we are talking with the women working in the security sector, whose everyday’s work contributes to the building of peace and stability in Montenegro.

The project has been supported by the Embassy of Canada.

The Atlantic Council of Montenegro is proud to announce the featuring of the project JOURNEY TO SAFETY.  Journey to Safety represents a series of three short documentaries whose goal is to create a more inclusive, tolerant, secure and prosperous democratic society in Montenegro. The topics of the documentaries are: Women in the Security Sector, Migrants and Returnees from the Battlefields.

The first documentary film will be premiered on January 18, 2021 on the television Vijesti at 4:55 pm. The other documentaries are planned to be featured on January 21 and 25, 2021 at 4:55 pm as well. The films are also available on the official YouTube channel of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro and our social media websites.

With this project, the Atlantic Council of Montenegro wants to contribute to peace and safety in Montenegro.

The project has been supported by the Embassy of Canada.

Education is the only way for societies to fight disinformation in the long run, a dangerous phenomenon that causes serious damage to all countries – was concluded on the panel dedicated to the fight against disinformation, organized within the jubilee tenth 2BS Forum, held on December 11.

Milan Jovanović, from the Digital Forensic Center, believes that the existence of political will and understanding of key decision-makers about the negative implications of this phenomenon is crucial for the success of the fight against fake news in all societies. No fact-checking organization can deal with such a complex phenomenon on its own. The answer must be multi-sectoral, ie it must include the cooperation of fact-checking organizations, the media, but it must also be on the political agenda, he pointed out.

Recalling that disinformation has existed since the language itself, Jovanovic said that, thanks to technology, it has come to the fore and became an everyday topic. Since the 2016 US elections, which are considered a turning point in the global rise of this phenomenon, the use of technology has enabled states, non-state actors, and politicians to spread disinformation, interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, create public opinion, and benefit themselves, he said. He emphasized that technology in its core is not good nor bad, but what we make out of it.

As an example, Jovanovic said that during the last parliamentary elections in Montenegro, the entire country was exposed to an organized campaign and artillery of fake news, primarily from Serbia, to such an extent that the observer could not escape the impression that Montenegro was on the brink of civil war. It was similar when Montenegro was admitted to NATO.

Besides, the current pandemic has also strengthened conspiracy theories and generated many doubts and crooked lines, and the receptivity of these theories to ordinary citizens lies in the fact that they offer easy and uncomplicated answers to complex questions, such as the current pandemic, Jovanovic concluded.

Drawing a parallel between the 2016 U.S. election and this year, Nicholas Yap of the U.S. Atlantic Council said that during this campaign, fake news was much easier to detect and that the proactive approach of fact-checking organizations had a positive result. However, the producers of fake news have themselves changed their tactics, adapted the content, leaving the biggest platforms, and targeting the content to special groups, and they are still successful in that business. He pointed out that now some countries are even making pacts on how to hide hacker attacks or generate fake news, giving them a more authentic look. In that context, he mentioned Russia and Iran. As the only successful way to fight the fake news, he also mentioned education, but also the engagement of the whole society.

Jakub Janda, director of the European Values Think-Tank, pointed to the many similarities between how Russia and China use fake news. They have the same strategic goals in Europe, and that is to squeeze out the United States, to break transatlantic ties, and to achieve their dominant influence in Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans. Unlike aggressive Russia, which uses some countries as proxies, China has a quieter but persistent and firm approach, it buys political influence by finding politicians who, attracted by certain benefits, will promote its interest and spread the misinformation it wants.

Currently, the goals of the disinformation that China is spreading are to remove the blame from that country for the coronavirus pandemic, then to show China as a savior who helps by sharing equipment, and finally to present the United States as a selfish force that does not want to help. He said that China will punish countries in Europe that try to exclude its technology giants from the tender for setting up a 5G network, that it would punish those who have good relations with Taiwan, and that it would try to divert attention from its human rights violations. What worries him is that, unlike the US, Europe has no answer to that. It seems that Europe is not worried, so there is no reason for either China or Russia to change their behavior, concluded Janda.

The U.S. foreign policy will be different under the administration of the new President-elect Joe Biden from the one lead by Donald Tramp, assessed participants at the panel discussion dedicated to the U.S. foreign policy after the Presidential election, organized within the tenth 2BS Forum.

Ivana Stradner, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, believes that Biden administration’s policy would be different from the one led by President Donald Trump. Contrary to Trump’s isolationism, Biden promises more cooperation starting from rejoining some important organizations and politics that Trump withdrew from, she said. However, she emphasizes that the approach needs to be strategically thought-out.

China is leading four agencies within the United Nations (UN) and some decisions it made within those bodies were very much biased and favorable for China. We cannot allow biased decisions to be made within the UN, Stradner said.

She emphasized that Biden’s approach to Russia would be different. Contrary to Trump who was almost silent on Russia, I have reasons to believe that Biden will act differently, she said.

Stradner believes that Biden would return the United States to the head of the table, which would be a shift compared to Trump who started a trade war. Multilateral pressure will be something that the United States will use in future relationships with China, she added. Different politics is expected in the relations with Iran, with diplomacy playing a key role.

Steven Clemons, editor at large at The Hill – the most read U.S. political platform, said that Donald Trump rejected a great deal of heritage the Unites States were built upon.

Joe Biden is a huge advocate of transatlantic relations, but according to him, it is something that we only see on the surface. Clemons emphasizes that a large majority of Americans wonders why we make ties with Europe, if there are countries such as Poland and Hungary which are autocratic and which lead Europe in a different direction.  He added that the transatlantic relationships that were the product of inertia and that had been developed without a goal for such a long period had become chaotic. Clemons wonders if Biden will be able to devote to the foreign policy given the scope of internal challenges and divisions that the Unites States are facing. After Trump, all the relations should be redefined, and Clemons thinks that Biden will do everything to rebuild ties with many countries and to reduce the tensions.

Stefan Fröhlich, chairman at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, said that things we would see under Biden’s rule would be different from what Trump was doing. Especially, there would be no isolationism and insulting of his partners in Europe. However, those who think that we would develop the transatlantic relationship similar to that from the period of Obama are wrong. Times are different, as well as the international surroundings, added Fröhlich. He agreed with Clemons that Biden would find domestic agenda more relevant that the foreign one. Biden will have a different approach towards the foreign policy. Fröhlich added that he would reject Trump’s contempt for the cooperation with European partners, as that was the way to suppress Russian and Chinese expansion, as well as that he would rely more on diplomacy than on military. 

Ambassador Philip Reeker, U.S. State Department Official from the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, stated that the USA were committed to the full integration of the Western Balkans in the EU.

There is no better time than this to reaffirm this commitment, said Reeker who was one of the main speakers at the 2BS Forum and added that the Western Balkan countries were on the right path to accomplish that.

We have the reasons to be optimistic. We see how far Northern Macedonia has come, we recognize dedication to integration when it comes to people in this region and our collective interest is to strengthen these aspirations, Reeker said.

Our vision, the US vision is a stable region, peaceful and integrated in the EU, Reeker said, emphasizing that the strong Balkans implies more stable Europe.

The most important thing that I see is that the Western Balkan countries articulated these aspirations, they brought decisions themselves and we are just helping them to achieve it. We believe that the countries themselves are capable to solve the problems and debatable issues together, Reeker emphasized.

He gave a recognition to many countries in the region, such as Albania and Northern Macedonia, Croatia that presided the EU, showing that they were mature enough to assume the responsibility. As a great sign of encouragement that the things in the region are improving, Reeker mentioned the conciliatory tones which could be heard in Croatia from the Prime Minister Plenkovic and which also contribute to easing the national tensions and reconciliation. He commended the election in Mostar, which were encouraged by the USA and the EU.

The Freedom House report that characterized the situation in Serbia and Montenegro as a hybrid regime caused a certain level of concern, as he said. It is a serious step back in comparison to the situation before.

He expressed gratitude to new Prime Minister of Montenegro Zdravko Krivokapic who is ensuring us that the European and Euro-Atlantic future of Montenegro cannot be put into question. Our partner is the people of Montenegro and we have a continuity of good cooperation through a range of administrations.

Ambassador Reeker assessed that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina must continue, that their potential was not exploited yet. He emphasized the efforts of the USA and EU that Bulgaria gave up on blocking the Northern Macedonia in the accession process and that Skopje could not be blocked, especially after the full commitment to the reforms. We are committed to the resolving of bilateral issues, out of the accession process.

Reeker said that newly elected US President Joe Biden perfectly knew the situation in the region, that he visited it, frequently hosted the local leaders and was familiar with the situation in the Western Balkans. I cannot tell what kind of moves the new administration will make, but I know that there is a continuity of all administrations regardless of their political spectrum when it comes to the fact that the Western Balkans needs to have European future.

He illustrated the claim that Europe as well perceived the Balkans as its part with the amount of aid that the EU and NATO directed towards the countries in the region during the Covid-19 pandemic. Not a single country would be able to provide it itself.

Reeker warned to the fact that particular countries such as Russia could accept the Euro-Atlantic future of the region.

Russia does not realize that this is a choice of the citizens, it is not imposed upon them. Unlike Russia, China is striving to buy the loyalty of the citizens, investing in the infrastructural projects, energetic systems and trying this way to open the doors to its influence, Reeker said.

As long as Moscow is opposing to the commitment of the citizens this strongly, the EU needs to make an effort and do all in its power to help democracy in the region be cemented.

Reeker had a message for the Western Balkans citizens that they should start making history instead of being burdened by it.

Our vision remains the same through different administrations, democratic countries of the Balkans, with responsible authorities that serve to its citizens, Reeker concluded.

Sharyl Cross, Distinguished Professor, and Global Policy Scholar at the Kennan Institute Woodrow Wilson, stated at the 2BS Forum that the support to medical staff and all those on the first line of defense was crucial in order to overcome the crisis, which was exactly what the USA had provided. She reflected on the politicizing of the pandemic, as in the case of masks. The reason for this lies in communication problems, which should not happen. Even though this pandemic is not a traditional security threat, just last week it took more lives than on September 11.

Cross also reflected on the global power relations during the pandemic and concluded that the conflict between Russia and the USA was noticeable.

Marcin Kaczmarski, lecturer in Security Studies at the School of Social and Political Sciences of the University of Glasgow, said at the 2BS panel discussion that a small extent to which COVID-19 had changed the geopolitical competition in the world almost represented a paradox. According to him, the status quo is still in force.

During this pandemic, we witnessed the competition between China, Russia, and the USA, Kaczmarskisaid. He added that the powers were competing on who would handle the crisis better. When it comes to China, Kaczmarski said that the attempt to change the narrative on the pandemic in that country was visible. He emphasized that China presented itself as a country that successfully combatted the pandemic.

Mark Schapiro, Foreign Policy Advisor at the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, also took part in this panel. He said that the main goal of the USA during the pandemic was not to let the health crisis turn into a national security threat. He added that the discipline in informing was crucial in the combat against the pandemic.

The pandemic has been one of the fields that the global leaders were competing in, Schapiro said. However, he also emphasized that the competition between the countries did not imply conflict or animosity.

When it comes to the USA as a global leader, the USA is building this position on the basis of the civil-military partnership.

Schapiro also responded to the observation of Professor Kaczmarski on the global players’ competition during the pandemic. He stated that the power competition did not have to turn into confrontation, or, that it did not imply animosity.

Finally, he said that this represented an international problem that the international response was needed for.

Tatyana Shakleina, Professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said that a better world could not be built upon the aggressive agenda. According to her, in order to make changes to the agenda, the world must focus more on problems such as global warming, environmental pollution, and migration. She added that those were the common problems that may unite us. A better world cannot be built, if we do not make changes to our current agenda, Shakleina said.