Within “Russian Federation Foreign Policy Concept” the world is defined as polycentric, in which no country is presented as a “pole” but instead, reacts in accordance with the emerging situation. Such concept implies the rise in use of the so called “soft power”. Objectively speaking, Russia under Putin has very well estimated benefits of using the “soft power”, by applying tools that the USA used years ago. Concretely, through influence on the Balkan countries, Putin is trying to present Russia as a traditional protector and patron of the Balkan countries, but also to ruffle up the concepts of the West in this area, primarily, to dispute the Euro-Atlantic integration processes of certain countries. Montenegro is a concrete example of such devised policy, where Russia has combined tools of “soft power” with specially designed media activity on the basis of spreading disinformation and fake news with actual interference in internal affairs of Montenegro. This relation was best displayed in significant periods of contemporary Montenegrin history, such as referendum on Montenegrin independence in 2006 and membership to NATO in 2017. Additionally, an example of interference in internal affairs of Montenegro was also a terrorist attempt in the time of the parliamentarian elections in 2016, with, as it was suspected, Russian influence, first through financing, and then with, allegedly, involvement of Russian citizens in the entire case.
According to its conservative policy, Russia, prior to referendum on Montenegrin independence, carried out extensive diplomatic action, and from today’s perspective, it could be said, untrue action based on disinforming and encouraging fake news spreading, with a view to preserve the union of Serbia and Montenegro, stating that survival of such country and relation between Serbia and Montenegro in it was a guarantor of stability in this region. In the period prior to the referendum, Russia used several ways to influence Montenegro, in order to make it give up on intentions to renew its independence:
- • Uniqueness of the Serbian-Montenegrin ethnic group and “Montenegrinship” as a concept invented by communists;
- • The greatest threat to Montenegro, if it came out from the state union, would be its Albanian minority and its connection to the home country;
- • Using “soft power” to influence, through church representatives, who, repeatedly, spoke about necessity of remaining in state union and that it was in the interest, both of Serbia and Montenegro, but Russia as well.
Despite this, after Montenegro renewed independence in 2006, Russia was the fourth country which (behind Germany, the USA and France) acknowledged new reality on the peninsula. Furthermore, in the very solution of the issue it saw opportunity for its economic influence. At this period Russian influence could be best expressed by numbers. Namely, Russian capital in Montenegro at that time exceeded 2 billion US dollars, while 30 thousand Russians bought real estate (apartments, land, houses).
The extensive campaign, guided by Russia, was carried out in the period prior to Montenegrin membership to NATO. Although, unfortunately, there wasn’t a comprehensive, fact-based analysis of such influence through media, church, political parties etc., the intention of Russia to prevent Montenegro from its path towards NATO was evident. Russia Today and Sputnik were mostly used for such venture when it comes to media. Their writings and addressing of the leaders of pro-Serbian political parties (Demokratski front, Demokratska narodna partija, Srpska koalicija, and since recently Prava Crna Gora) were profusely quoted on social networks, and in certain media in Montenegro. What is important to emphasize here is that such information was spread without previous fact-checking. The well-proven instrument of influence, of course, is the church. Although in the Constitution of the Russian Federation the church has no special place, Putin, aware of its importance, both for Russian identity and as an important link of the “soft power”, as part of the impact on countries of particular importance, has done everything to strengthen the position of Orthodox Church. In that manner, Russian voice has been heard in Montenegro through Serbian Orthodox Church and its leader in Montenegro, Amfilohije Radović, where the need to maintain ties with Russia based on traditional fraternal relations was stressed out, while at the same time rigid, retrograde and instigating rhetoric has been used to counter the Euro-Atlantic integration of Montenegro.
In the end, it is worth pointing out a few facts that favor such Russian influence. Namely, as we have already pointed out, lack of comprehensive analysis of the Russian influence in Montenegro, in context of the use “soft power” tools, is aggravating factor of the fight against disinformation and fake news. The need for coordinated and concrete activities, with a view to counter this kind of calamity is clearly evident, thus, the activities of the Atlantic Council are of a significant importance. On the other side, the Balkans, and especially its western part presents fertile soil for such activities of the countries that use specific tools for achieving their goals in international relations. The Western Balkan countries are in the process of democracy consolidation, establishment of the democratic institutions, with still weak civil society, and a low level of media and computer literacy, burdened with the past (when it comes to Russia and centuries-long relations), and, therefore, they represent fertile soil for receiving such an impact. An example of the relations between Montenegro and Russia shows the evident need for undertaking targeted activities, that will lead to reporting in a well-argumented manner, the spread of media and information literacy, especially among young people.
In the foreseeable future, the situation of tense relations between Montenegro and Russia is expected to continue. The system of EU sanctions against Russia, that Montenegro, as a candidate for full-fledged membership inclined to, contributed to this situation. Such situation will benefit from the latest developments in the Orthodox Church and from autocephaly of the Ukrainian church, obtained from the Constantinople Patriarch, which additionally instigate aspiration to renew independence of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, as well as the anticipation of a judicial epilogue in the case of a “coup” and the deteriorating relations between Montenegro and Serbia, which is a key partner of Russia in the Balkans.