In 1999, NATO killed 10 civilians in an airstrike against Montenegro as part of the Kosovo War. This week, the tiny Balkan state will formally join NATO, capping years of intense internal debate on what has proven to be a very controversial issue.
NATO nations are crowing over this as a big victory over Russia, presenting it as Montenegro having chosen the West over its historical ties to Russia. That may be true for the current ruling party, which has accused Russia of trying to assassinate their prime minister, but within the country, a lot of people are worried.
And rightly so. Montenegro ties to Russia are not just based on history and religion, they are also a major economic partner, and that is now in jeopardy. Trade is starting to suffer, with Montenegriin wine banned by Russia over pesticide concerns. Even deeper hits are being felt on tourism.
The Adriatic coast was a popular tourist destination for Russians, but they’re steering clear of Montenegro in recent years, with the figure dropping precipitously in 2017. Officials are downplaying this, insisting that Russian tourists will eventually return. In the meantime, becoming one of NATO’s smallest members isn’t going to convince Western tourists to flock to the former Yugoslav coastline.