Brussels – addressing žuralìstami in NATO Headquarters, Secretary General of the Organization of the Jens Stoltenberǵ called the historic decision of Member States to invite Montenegro to join the Alliance. The last time NATO expanded in 2009, when members were Croatia and Albania. And through more than six years, 2 December 2015, NATO Foreign Ministers invited Montenegro to become a 29-member of the organization. It is still not full membership, and as diplomats, the ratification process and technical procedures might take about two years, however, neither in Montenegro, nor NATO have expressed doubt that the membership now is only a matter of time. About the reforms, which had to spend in the country in order to meet the standards of NATO, which so many now say in Ukraine, and about the influence of Russia in the process of Radio Liberty told the NATO National Coordinator in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro Vesko Ǵarčevič.
– How much time your country really need to meet the criteria?
– Process lasted nine years, from 2006, when Montenegro joined the partnership for peace. However, the crucial point was the adoption of the membership action plan in 2009. It includes annual national plan where the country indicates a list of reforms that need to be for the year. Each year after the implementation of the plan of NATO'S international team arrives to check out the progress we managed to achieve. We performed six such annual plans.
For six of those years, Montenegro was focused on reforms in four areas: the reform of the defence sector, which was intended to make it compatible with NATO, reform in the security sector (military intelligence and the national security agency – ed.), in the field of rule of law and to support the idea of joining NATO among the citizens of Montenegro. If we talk about the rule of law, then, as you probably know, Montenegro is also planning to become a member of the European Union. These two processes are coming next to and complement each other.
Now for us a historic moment. Because after the restoration of independence in 2006, we as a country have put the two priority objectives: become a member of NATO and the EU. And one of those purposes is now much close. After receiving the invitation, we still have to go through a number of technical procedures and only after that will become a full member. But from a political point of view the turning point is the invitation.
– can you select sector, where spending reforms was the hardest?
– First of all I have to say that the country should be tolerable, because the process is long. However, as the saying goes: even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step. We had a few key points, after which, had we not been so stubborn in the positive sense of the word, you could go the distance. For example, we thought that the EU Summit in Wales last year, will be a good opportunity for the invitation, but that's not happened. And the first reaction was disappointment and dissatisfaction. But in the end, Wales turned out to be even useful for Montenegro because the changes became more intense as the political dialogue with Member States.
In each of the areas was difficult. Speaking of the security sector, then, as you know, we're a country in transition, because it is a representative of the former Socialist camp. By the way, as well as Ukraine. The reform process was complicated by the fact that in the 90 's and in our territory lasted war. Or rather, on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, a part of which was Montenegro and which began to disintegrate in the early 1990s during a bloody civil war. So all of this has made the process of reform more difficult.
But I would not have spent any of the sectors. Each of them has its own challenges. In the defence sector, the same for the rule of law, if it is about a country that only goes to a parliamentary democracy. In the case of Montenegro is very important and public support. Because, as I have already said Montenegro was part of Yugoslavia, NATO bombed in 1999. People still remember this, and emotions have not yet subsided. So for sixteen years, during the period between 1999 and 2015 for years, we have gone from full rejection to the position we have now, when most people do, which is very close to the majority supports membership. It was not easy. People need to talk, to explain why it is important, why countries such as Montenegro, should join the Alliance, which is a matter for our security and stability, regional cooperation and so on. So we tried to shed light on various aspects of membership, not just the military.
– But obviously had to make unpopular decisions.
– The security we had to implement a number of laws, which the people who work there now rather go to retire. And then released were about twenty per cent of all employees in this sector. This meant that we open the path for young professionals, which will already be trained according to NATO standards. Not because all previous employees bad, just sometimes have to take measures that are not popular. But they make us closer to the goal that we have set ourselves. Such measures are an important signal to NATO partners, indicating the seriousness of our intentions.
– The Resistance was not? After all, hardly fired employees were delighted with such decisions. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense constantly complain about opposition system and the old frames.
I don't know what they felt, I'm not saying, but they are not doing something that would have hindered the process. But that all went smoothly, they were offered compensation. They accepted, because in Montenegro it did not cause any problems.
– Recently, the Defense Minister said that by 2020, the Ukrainian army has move on to NATO standards. As this was happening in you?
As for me, in the military sector, there are three main things. To participate in NATO-led operations – because in such circumstances, you are working in the field with other countries, that helps the army become compatible with NATO and to adopt their standards. Very important is also the budget. Here NATO is clear criteria: the country should allocate two percent of its GDP on defense. Also an important structuring. It is necessary to allocate a certain percentage of funds for modernization of the army. It is important to invest in training and education of people who are working there. The country should implement the standards by which you will be able to interact with members of NATO. We have a small army, so perhaps it was to our advantage, because when we regained independence in 2006, developed an army from scratch.
Ukraine not all approve of the desire to join NATO. In Montenegro a similar situation?
– Public campaign – this is one of those issues that we had to solve. In early January this year, joining NATO maintained a 32 per cent of the inhabitants of Montenegro. This was about 15. And at the end of November, recent polls have shown support at the level of 47 percent. Against the remains of 38, the other has not yet come.
The opponents there are several reasons, and, as I said before, one of them is the NATO bombing in 1999, the result of which were losses among the civilian population. Secondly, our neighbor Serbia decided to be neutral. So here is the part of the people who want Montenegro deployed neutrality. Thirdly, some people think that joining NATO will spoil good relations with Russia, which has historically developed in Montenegro. Fourthly, I would say, in the part of the people a false perception of what actually is. The Alliance mounted a shortcut to a purely military organization that supposedly only the zajmaêt′mâ that leads to war. And these four or five arguments are constantly exploited people against joining. Some of them were vehemently opposed, others advocate the neutral status of Montenegro. But for the last two years we've had the hard work. I, my predecessor, my team – we worked with people, events, traveled across the country, said explained, what is NATO. Explained that the inhabitants of Montenegro may benefit from membership, as, after all, and the whole country.
-Representatives of the authorities in Montenegro have repeatedly accused Russia of involvement in the protests, which took place in Montenegro concerning, among other things, of joining NATO.
Yes, we had protests, but I can't claim that their funded Russia. There was a whole series of actions, but participation in them were no more than several thousand people.
The largest of them was held several weeks ago in the capital. There were about 5-6 thousands of demonstrators. But if we talk about Russia's position, it is worth noting that these actions suprovodžuvalis′ statements of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who expressed support for those who are protesting against the Government of Montenegro and against entry to NATO. Protests also were active in the Russian media. It is about the media, which broadcast Serbian and located mostly in Belgrade. It was not, apparently, and a day without a dozen of articles on Montenegro. Majority of them negative and describe just the possible accession of Montenegro to the Alliance and sharply criticized the goals of our foreign policy.
But I would like to stress that Montenegro had never concealed their plans. Immediately after the restoration of independence in 2006, we have identified priorities. And one of them was. All of our partners, both in the West and in the East, including Russia, it was known that Montenegro wants to become a member of the organization. Nothing we do in secret. So now we only continue to pursue our foreign policy, which stipulates that Montenegro should become a member of NATO and the EU.
And yet the representatives of Russia, in particular, Minister Sergey Lavrov, earlier claimed that, to put it mildly, do not support the desire of Montenegro to become a member of the Alliance. You zvažaête Russia's position? After all, even if not to take into account the military factor remain, such as the economy.
We are not too dependent on Russia in economic terms. First of all, we are talking about energy independence. We are not attached to any of its pipelines. We are located in southern Europe, and we have different sources of energy supply.
Regarding investments, Russia is also not the main investor. For us, this country is Italy is our neighbor. Other powerful investors – members of the European Union. Russia is represented in the field of tourism. So, from there to us goes a significant number of people. Although from Ukraine as well. So many Russians are buying property in Montenegro. But in Russia, there is significant leverage on the economy. In Russia there are no investments in banking or energy sector. The biggest investment of their money invested in our aluminum plant. But the Government of Montenegro has already turned this enterprise into their property. So, from this point of view, Russia is not enough force to change the navrâmok movement.
Russia's FOREIGN MINISTRY statement that you did not take into account?
We have a future Member of NATO. But at the same time do not forget our past. We will remember and považatimemo the fact that Montenegro and Russia have always had a good relationship. But we have our interests and our goals in foreign policy. We are an independent country, so will stick to their own political interests, but also považatimemo.