Foreign Policy

Senate should fix NATO’s Montenegro problem

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Donald J. Trump created a sensation when he linked NATO members’ performance with U.S. support and protection. Covering the U.S. defense expenses is the most important aspect of the new defense deal Trump proposes to Europe. Additionally, not allowing rampant corruption and criminality should also be a criterion for a new member to join the North Atlantic Alliance. 

In December 2016, NATO intends to make Montenegro its 29th member. Although the Balkan country’s military is small with less than 3,000 soldiers, NATO is pushing for inclusion to shore up the Balkans, and specifically Montenegro, against Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe. 

{mosads}However, before Montenegro joins the alliance, the U.S. Senate should demand that as the condition to its advise and consent to NATO membership, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic should cease to rule the Balkan country, and the authorities must tame corruption and illicit activities.

Montenegro accession is irritating Russia – something Donald J. Trump would not approve of. Moreover, as a tiny and rather poor country, its economic contribution to European security is minimal. 

President Barack Obama’s successor will have to contend with this extremely troublesome situation. A Clinton presidency is likely to coddle the criminal Djukanovic, while a Trump administration might just take Montenegro off the NATO timetable, not willing to irritate the Kremlin unnecessarily. 

Djukanovic’s alleged corruption would reinforce Trump’s critical approach to NATO membership for Montenegro, and strengthen his call for re-examination of NATO goals, missions, and burden-sharing. 

If Montenegro joins NATO in its current condition, Podgorica could be the frailest link within the alliance. The country is rife with corruption at the highest levels of the government. 

Djukanovic, known as the “father of the Montenegrin nation”, is one of the most corrupt world leaders. Djukanovic and his family treat Montenegro like a fiefdom where greed and violence go hand in hand. This is not acceptable for a candidate NATO member leader who owns or controls properties and company shares worth at least $14.7 million dollars.

The Prime Minister’s name is associated by opposition media with the 2004 murder of Dusko Jovanovic, editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Dan, for exposing Djukanovic’s criminal activity and fraud. Subsequent violent attacks on Montenegrin journalists who are trying to bring transparency to Montenegro are a norm. The message is “Keep your mouth shut or face consequences”. 

In the mid-2000s an Italian anti-mafia unit reportedly investigated the Montenegrin leader and his cohorts over a one billion dollar cigarette smuggling operation with the Italian Sacra Corona Unita and Camorra crime families. The alleged criminal activity was dating back to the 1990s. Djukanovic has diplomatic immunity and therefore evaded prosecution. 

Djukanovic also reportedly took advantage of the small Balkan country’s emerging telecom industry to enrich him and his family. This Montenegrin politician-cum-oligarch was involved in the Hungarian company Magyar Telecom bribery scheme in 2011, where his sister, Ana Kolarevic, reportedly helped to acquire Montenegro’s state-owned carrier, Crnogorski Telekom. Magyar’s parent, Deutsche Telekom of Germany, was also a participant. 

This incident is not a mystery: the U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigated Magyar and Deutsche Telekom since the companies traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The companies had to pay almost $64 million in criminal penalties. Specifically, Magyar Telecom admitted to bribing two government officials and Mr. Djukanovic’s sister. 

Clearly, Djukanovic and his family control all financial levers in Montenegro. In 2010 Price Waterhouse investigated the country’s Prva Banka, or “First Bank”, which is controlled by the Djukanovic family.

The audit stated that most of the money deposited at the bank came from public funds, while two thirds of the loans with no interest went to the Djukanovics and their close associates, including Stanko Subotic, indicted by the Italian anti-mafia unit, and convicted drug smuggler Darko Saric.

This alleged massive bank fraud weakens the state. Weapons smuggling throughout the Balkans, with Montenegro as an epicenter, is probably an even graver concern than Djukanovic’s financial shenanigans for this prospective NATO member. 

Montenegro’s military warehouses currently contain over 4.1 million tons of Yugoslav army weapons with clear violations of safety and security.

A Wikileaks U.S. Embassy cable from 2007 reported: “…several groups in Montenegro that deal mainly in drugs and arms smuggling are connected with criminals from neighboring countries, Western Europe and South America.” To this day, these networks continue to seek weapons from any source they can in the Balkans including Montenegro.

Despite a glowing report from the US State Department on Montenegro’s counterterrorism capabilities, the ISIS terror attacks in Nice, Brussels, Paris and elsewhere, the EU states are on the front lines of the fight against extremists. Montenegro’s weapons should not be making their way to these killing zones under Djukanovic’s watch. 

Ninety percent of illegal weapons in Belgium originate from Montenegro and other Balkan countries. Montenegrin citizens sell weapons from Damascus to Paris. Even two decades ago, this small Balkan country supplied arms to Saddam Hussein. Although the government claimed to have destroyed millions of weapons in Montenegro, millions remain for sale. 

In light of the evidence, the Senate must expose the Djukanovic regime by conditioning his departure as a sine qua non to Montenegro NATO membership. 

The Montenegrin kingpin is enriching himself, while expanding the toxic environment necessary for the spread of organized crime and corruption.

It’s time for the Senate to clean Montenegro up before it enters NATO.

Karasik is Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Lexington Institute and a national security expert, specializing in Europe and the Middle East. He worked for the RAND Corporation and publishes widely in the U.S. and international media.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Barack Obama montenegro NATO Securities and Exchange Commission United States

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