BELGRADE — Vice President Mike Pence has urged Balkan countries to stand up against Russian hegemony in the region, reassuring tiny nations that Washington has their back.
“Here in Europe, we must be resolute and uncompromising in the face of aggression from an unpredictable country that casts a shadow from the east,” Mr. Pence told leaders of eight Balkan countries. The vice president’s speech in Montenegro, the newest NATO member, was delivered as part of Adriatic Charter Summit.
The Adriatic Charter was envisioned as an organization that would improve the cooperation of Adriatic Balkan nations of Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania, as well as those in close relations such are Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia and Kosovo.
Mr. Pence said Russia seeks to redraw international borders by force. “And here, in the Western Balkans, Russia has worked to destabilize the region, undermine your democracies, and divide you from each other, and the rest of Europe,’’ Mr. Pence told the audience.
The vice president was referring to members of Serbian paramilitary groups that were arrested this February and charged with the attempted assassination of Milo Dukanovic. Not much evidence was provided to show the Russian involvement in this amateurish coup attempt, but officials in both Serbia and Montenegro point to Moscow as the most probable culprit.
Russia’s alleged role in the coup attempt is not unusual. Moscow punished Georgia and Ukraine in the past for their pro-Western foreign policy course, invading the former and instigating instability in the other.
While Mr. Pence, who came to Montenegro at the invitation of its president Filip Vujanovic, was pointing his finger at Russia, local politicians were consumed by domestic political bickering.
While the visit started in a festive mood, as expected, little was done to improve cooperation besides mutual praises and the idyllic visions of the future.
While the Montenegrin government is committed to NATO, much of the population is against its involvement, arguing still fresh memories of the 1999 bombing of Montenegro and Serbia by NATO forces during the Kosovo crisis.
The morning before the summit opening, the VP was visited without announcement in his hotel by some members of the Montenegrin opposition who have boycotted the national assembly since the last parliamentary elections.
While the visit was praised as constructive by the president of the Civil Movement URA, Dritan Abazovic, sources close to the opposition told The Globe Post that the visit was designed to push Mr. Pence to encourage Montenegro PM Dusko Markovic to allow the entry of some opposition leaders into the government.
‘’This is nothing new. Some of the opposition leaders are less interested in the democratic process in the country and more with their position in any government, even be it another Milo government,” one of the opposition politicians, who wanted to remain anonymous because the person was not allowed to discuss it publicly, said.
The person described now-retired but still highly influential Montenegro leader Mr. Dukanovic, who was visibly absent, as someone who still holds all the cards in the small Adriatic nation.
Newly elected Prime Minister of Macedonia Zoran Zaev used this opportunity to inform the vice president about Macedonia’s wish to become the 30th member of NATO, a proposal that U.S. supports but is blocked by Greece because of the problems about the official name of Macedonia.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Edi Rama urged Mr. Pence to help the landlocked nation eliminate the obstacles for his country becoming a full member of NATO. Kosovo’s biggest supporter, Albania, is a member of NATO since 2009 and is in accession talks with the E.U.
On his Facebook page, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci stated how he had informed Mr. Pence that Kosovo remains an uncompromised ally in the fight against any form of extremism, radicalism or terrorism.