By Adnan Prekic – Podgorica
The crisis in Ukraine and the events surrounding the merging of Crimea to the Russian Federation has put the Montenegrin diplomats in a delicate position. On one side are the obligations of Montenegro as a candidate country for membership in the European Union and on the other stand the traditionally good relations with Russia and the fact that a large number of tourists comes from these countries on Holiday in Montenegro. Russians and Ukrainians make up about 35% of the total number of tourists who visit Montenegro.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro has clearly distanced themselves saying that sanctions against Russia will not be introduced due to the merging of the Crimea. Officially, Montenegro still supports the resolution of the European Commission, which can be interpreted as supporting the sanctions against Russia. Montenegro as a candidate for membership has an obligation to follow EU’s decisions. Being heavily dependent on a large number of Russian tourists who take their holidays in Montenegro, Montenegrin diplomacy must make a difficult decision – how can one be with the West but still keep the influx of Russian millions in tourism and investment?
The way in which the deterioration of relations between the European Union and Russia will soon affect Montenegro can be seen by the following example. As reported by the media in Montenegro, after the referendum on the separation of Crimea from Ukraine and its merging with Russia, a ban has been introduced on the entry of 33 Russian citizen. Among those on EU’s and United States’ “black list” is the frequently seen on the Montenegrin coast, President of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin, who in the last four years has been spending his summer vacations in Herceg Novi with his family. The amount of influence Yakunin has in Montenegro is evidenced by the fact that for aiding in the improvement of relations between the two countries he received a medal from the NGO Fund in Herceg Novi.
The official position of Montenegro is quite clear. Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who was on an official visit to Brussels, where he participated in the local Brussels Forum, said that Montenegro is ready to take on all the required obligations for membership in the European Union and NATO. “Montenegro has chosen its path. Montenegro wants to be a member of the European Union and NATO. In doing so, we will not tear down some of our traditional friendships, but in a very clear and very determined way we will take on all the obligations arising from the European and Euro-Atlantic Partnership. Montenegro isn’t Moscow on the beach”, said Djukanovic and added that Montenegro is a sovereign state with strong democratic standards.
In Montenegro there are between 5,000 and 7,000 Russians permanent resident, mostly in coastal towns. Also, Russian citizens own 32% of the foreign companies in Montenegro, according to the Montenegrin Statistical Office. During the last year, according to information published in the Montenegrin media, about 300,000 Russian tourists arrived in the Montenegrin coastal towns, who have made 2,367,000 overnight stays. According to a survey by Russian Novaya Gazeta, more than 40% of real estate in Montenegro belongs to Russian politicians, potentates and billionaires. Montenegro is labeled as “Russian VIP resort”, ie as the preferred destination of Russian oligarchs.