Montenegro finds itself at heart of tensions as it joins Nato

Montenegro finds itself at heart of tensions with Russia as it joins Nato. It may be recalled that the very alliance that bombed country 18 years ago, welcomes it as 29th member in move that has left its citizens divided. The Democratic Front, an alliance of parties is opposed to Montenegro’s membership of Nato.

It’s a striking choice given that two of the party’s leaders have been stripped of parliamentary immunity and charged with attempting to overthrow the government in an allegedly Russian-backed plot. But it also shows the deep divisions that continue as the Balkan country of 600,000 is welcomed as NATO's 29th member and attends its first summit on Thursday.

It was only 18 years ago that Nato aircraft were bombing targets in Montenegro – then part of a federal republic with Serbia – in a campaign that forced Slobodan Milošević’s troops out of Kosovo. The bombing remains a painful memory for many Montenegrins, and polls have shown the population evenly divided on Nato membership. Many hope Nato membership will end the tumultuous east-west struggle in Montenegrin politics, but the divisive trial of the accused plotters starts this week, and the country remains in political crisis. 

One of the key objections to Montenegro’s Nato membership, raised by the US senator Rand Paul among others, is that it can contribute a tiny military of only 2,000 soldiers in exchange for Nato protection. What it does have is the last stretch of Mediterranean coastline between Gibraltar and Syria not controlled by the alliance, so it's important. 

Nato membership, however, is rejected by much of the population, raising the possibility of continued political upheaval. A poll in December found that 39.5% of the population was for and 39.7% against.