PODGORICA – Montenegrin Commission for the Political System, Interior, and Foreign Policy has formally adopted the EU’s sanctions against Russia, but the Government has not implemented them yet. Experts assess that one of the reason were yesterday’s local elections in Berane, at which certain members of the Government wanted to win over a part of the pro-Russian electorate.
The commission, led by Deputy Prime Minister Dritan Abazović, who received the mandate to form the new Government earlier this month, is the permanent working body of the current Government, which has lost the confidence vote in February.
The Commission meets every week and issues conclusions, which the Government still needs to adopt for them to have an effect. For sanctions to take effect, the acting government led by Zdravko Krivokapić needs to confirm them by a simple majority of seven ministers. It seems that no such majority has been available so far.
When it comes to the implementation of sanctions, Montenegro only closed its airspace for Russian air companies and planes. Previously, efforts were made to ban the Russian state-owned media Russia Today and Sputnik in Montenegro but to no avail – there was, again, no majority amongst ministers to back up this action.
The majority of EU sanctions, which Montenegro formally accepted, include asset freezes, prohibition to provide funds, and travel bans. They are targeted at 877 individuals and 62 entities including over 30 top-ranked Russian oligarchs.
Two weeks ago, according to Vijesti, a physical altercation between two ministers, Đorđe Radulović and Jakov Milatović, was narrowly avoided. Insults were exchanged between the two, and allegedly Radulović said to Milatović that he should start training box because they would soon meet again.
EU Spokesperson Peter Stano said in an interview for the RTCG (Montenegrin public broadcasting agency) that regarding the sanctions he expects Montenegro to “work diligently” on their implementation.
He added that Montenegro has achieved 100% alignment with the EU’s foreign policy, has supported the voting of UN resolution which denounces Russian invasion, and has also expressed the will to align with the newest EU sanctions.
“We appreciate Montenegro’s achievements in harmonization, and we expect that in accordance with Montenegrin principles and aspirations, it will continue to work hard to implement all decisions and declarations made in connection with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and EU decisions in that regard“, concluded Stano.
Bojan Baća, sociologist and member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG), assesses for European Western Balkans that the reason for the lack of implementation of EU’s sanctions are the local elections in Berane. He believes that Prime Minister Krivokapić and some other ministers want to form their own party and these elections are crucial for consolidation and the showcase of their strength.
“The electorate in Berane is predominantly pro-Russian and they need to win them over“, Baća says.
Baća assesses that certain members of the Government “without a doubt” cultivate pro-Russian sentiment, adding that this won’t get in the way of their petty political calculations. According to Baća, after the local elections, it will be revealed who is actually pro-Russian, who is pro-Western, and also who has changed the side.
When it comes to the reaction from the EU, he thinks that, given the current political crisis in Montenegro, a formal alignment with Union’s foreign policy would suffice. However, after the announced minority government is formed, a concrete implementation of sanctions would become necessary.
Preliminary results of elections in Berane show that the formerly dominant Democratic Party of Socialists, which is expected to support the future minority Government, has seen a sharp decline, having lost around half of the seats in comparison with the elections in 2018.
“That anti-democratic majority at the state level can now muster a maximum of 16 seats (out of 35 in Berane)“, said Aleksa Bečić, leader of Democrats, who opposes the future minority Government.
The election list “Berane now”, which was backed up by Krivokapić and ministers Spajić and Milatović, has won 4 mandates and it seems that they will be a part of the ruling majority in Berane.