It is seen that the balances in the Balkans also were shaken with the Russia-Ukraine War. Moreover, frozen conflict zones that are ready to be activated still exist. The fragility of the regional states is in line with the interests of Russia, which wants to divert attention from Ukraine. In this context, it can be said that the region has become a competitive playground between Russia and the West. Because the fragile structure in the Balkans also poses a threat to the security of Europe. For this reason, the European Union (EU) concentrate on the Balkans policy. However, the policies of the EU deepen the disagreements between Russia and the West. On the other hand, Russia either supports or encourages the steps that will destabilize the Serb populated regions.
Montenegro, which has been mentioned with crises recently, is one of the countries that witnessed this struggle for influence. As a matter of fact, Montenegro, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), is also getting closer to the EU. Situation in question disturbs Moscow. The deepening of the crises in Montenegro is in the interests of Moscow. The claim that Russia-based cyber-attacks took place in the country, which was dragged into a crisis atmosphere with the signing of the Basic Agreement between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Montenegrin Government in 2022, becomes remarkable in this sense. In addition to this, the issue of trying to harm the stability in the country with disinformation efforts also maintains its place on the agenda.
As is known, the Government of Dritan Abazovic fell as a result of the Basic Agreement signed in 2022 and a new government has not been formed yet. This situation led to the deepening of the current crisis. On the other hand, a new crisis is being experienced through Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic. The crisis in question makes the situation in Montenegro even more serious.
In September 2022, Serbian-origin parties submitted the name Miograd Lekic to Djukanovic, requesting that he be given the mandate to form a government. However, Djukanovic rejected this offer. After Djukanovic stated that the rejection was in accordance with the constitution, the reactions continued to increase. Because after this development, with the initiative of pro-Serb parties, a constitutional amendment that restricted Djukanovic’s powers in the government formation process came to the fore.
Although Djukanovic initially rejected the amendment and sent it back, he had to approve it. After this development, while protests were held in the country, the streets of the capital almost turned into a war zone. In this context, the evaluations that the Montenegrin politics have reached a dead end have come to the fore. While it is seen that Djukanovic, who brought the situation in question to the EU, was given significant support from the EU; the statements made criticize this regulation in the constitution.
In the statement made by the Council of Europe, it was stated that this development started a constitutional crisis in the country; it was underlined that this amendment was contrary to the decisions of the Venice Commission. It was also stated that the support given to the reform process in Montenegro will continue. But more importantly, it was said in the statement that the crisis undermined Montenegro’s EU integration process. This is a worrying development for Montenegro, which until recently was considered the country closest to EU membership.
In addition, the election of the missing members of the Montenegrin Constitutional Court has not been completed. The aforementioned situation reveals that the institutions in the country have become dysfunctional and the deadlock in the decision-making mechanisms. In particular, the EU, which closely monitors the constitutional processes in the country, described this situation as an unacceptable development. Such that; Slovenian Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon even warned about this issue. On the other hand, according to a statement from the EU, the current crises may create political and economic obstacles for Montenegro.
In this context, it can be said that the process that started with the signing of the Basic Agreement created a domino effect and opened the door to new crises in the country. It is clear that Euro-Atlantic institutions and active Western actors in the region are disturbed by all these happens. Because, just like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro is considered as the soft belly of the Balkans at the point reached today. The EU considers that the tension in the Kosovo-Serbia line threatens the stability in the region. On the other hand, the United States of America (USA) is also concerned about the developments.
After the EU’s aforementioned statements, the possibility of the suspension of Kosovo’s membership process came to the fore. On the one hand, the EU, which accelerated the integration process of other regional countries; on the other hand, it tries to manage the crises in the region. Undoubtedly, crises complicate the EU’s job in this competitive environment.
USA Special Representative for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar stated that “heavy consequences” will occur if this crisis that has been going on for months in Montenegro does not come to an end. In the recent period, it can be predicted that the USA, which has been trying to create an elbow room for itself by increasing its visibility in the region, will put more pressure on Montenegro in the future. Because Montenegro has begun to be seen as a weak link in the rivalry between Russia and the West.
In addition to all these, Presidential elections are expected to be held in March 2023. It can be said that these elections, where the candidates are not yet known clearly, will be tough. Djukanovic, who has been sitting in the Presidency seat since 2018, there is focused on the possibility of being a candidate again.
The re-cendidacy of Djukanovic, who has shaped Montenegrin politics for nearly 30 years, may lead to a more competitive environment for the elections. Because, according to some sections, it is believed that the deadlock in the country can only be overcome with the departure of Djukanovic. Accordingly, it can be stated that Montenegro, where a new government has not yet been established, will go through a presidential election process with high tension. This could further deepen the political crisis in the country.
As a result, the inability of Montenegro to cope with the crises is watched with concern by Western actors and regional states. Because considering the conjuncture in the region, it is possible that the crisis in Montenegro has a butterfly effect. It is also possible that this situation will bring other frozen conflicts to light in the region. It can be argued that actors such as the USA and the EU will increase their pressure and initiatives in Montenegro, where the current crises are getting deeper.
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