SOCHI, May 19. /TASS/. NATO’s attempts to change the political landscape in Europe touch upon Russia’s interests and prompt it to respond, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday.
"NATO’s latest attempts at changing the military and political landscape in Europe, in particular, in the context of its outspoken policy of deterrence towards Russia, will inevitably affect Russia’s interests and force it to respond proportionately," Zakharova said.
According to the diplomat, dragging Montenegro into NATO won't be left without Russia’s reaction.
"As for the just-signed protocol on Montenegro’s accession to the Washington treaty, it merely confirms the intention of Brussels to accelerate the admission process to the maximum extent and make it irreversible," Zakharova said. "The efforts to artificially drag Podgorica into the alliance are proceeding against the background of backstage deals with Montenegro’s top officials in defiance of the opinion of the country’s people and in bypass of the democratic principles and procedures NATO is ostensibly firmly committed to."
The 28 NATO foreign ministers on Thursday signed a protocol on Montenegro’s admission to the alliance in the capacity of an observer. Once the ratification has been completed, Montenegro will become the 29th member of NATO.
The head of the Balkan countries group at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, Nikita Bondarev, told TASS in an interview that the people of Montenegro are unlikely to come out in support of the authorities’ idea to make the country a member of NATO, should the issue be put to the vote in a referendum.
He believes "there is no reason for panic, because for now the alliance admits only observers."
"According to the most optimistic estimates, the question of their admission to NATO as a full-fledged member may approach the final phase no earlier than the end of this year."
"In reality this may take place in the middle of 2017," he believes.
"It goes without saying that Montenegro’s admission to the alliance as an observer is the first step towards full membership," Bondarev said. "Whether Montenegro is a member of NATO or not does not influence anything at all. This is not a pragmatic decision that might have been prompted by some practical benefits for NATO. That’s plain politics and a flick on Russia’s nose."
NATO’s presence in the region is quite significant: there are bases in Greece and Italy and there is a base of the US contingent in Kosovo - Bondsteel.
"In fact, it functions as NATO base already, so the prospects of Montenegro and eventually Serbia joining NATO is pure politics, nothing more," Bondarev said. "Montenegro’s problem is the people do not wish to enter the alliance. The country suffered from NATO bombardments in 1999, so the people have no wish to join NATO, while its leaders do have such an intention."
"Russia pays so much attention to this affair not because Montenegro’s membership of the alliance might harm us in some way, hinder something or cause certain influences, but because a the leadership of a European country is dragging it into NATO against the will of its people," he said.
Montenegro’s oppositional parties "want a referendum to be called on the issue, while the leadership is emphatically against holding it," Bondarev said.
"In this situation Moscow would like to see the voice of Montenegro’s people heard and the procedure of its admission to the alliance be democratic and transparent and a referendum to be held," Bondarev said. "It is pretty clear that a referendum will give NATO not the slightest chance, because the people are against."