President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic assessed that Russia’s goal was not to jeopardize primarily Montenegro, but the Western values and to undermine the West itself, while Montenegro was just a fertile ground for that.

While participating at the 11th 2BS Forum, he said that the comments about Montenegrin politics having gotten Russia through the front door in the Western Balkans and Montenegro being the sole culprit of its today’s situation were false.

While reminding that only two big Russian investments have been made in Montenegro, with only one being a success, the Montenegrin President said that Montenegro had its state politics, which had not been influenced by Russia.

He believes that the current situation in the Western Balkans has largely been contributed by Brussels’s reluctance to continue with the European integration process and messages that have been blurring the European perspective of the Balkan countries.

Brussels blamed us for not carrying out enough reforms, while we blamed them for slowing down the integration process; therefore, today, we have a situation where stability and not the European perspective is on our agenda. I have always emphasized that there is a big and quality equal sign between stability and the European integration process, he said, adding that we testify that as soon as the European relations are weakened, the third countries interfere with their own plans.

Djukanovic pointed out that the presence of the third countries opened the door to growing nationalism to the point that nowadays we speak about the creation of nationalistic greater state constructs, nationally and religiously homogenous, which should be created at the expenses of North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Claiming that he has never asked for the regional counties to become the EU member states before the criteria were met, he said that he asked for the integration processes not to be halted since the Balkan countries cannot ensure stability themselves.

Answering the question about him being responsible for the current position of the Serbian President, Djukanovic said that such claims had come from former Serbian President Boris Tadic who, having lost the elections, tried to pass the responsibility to Montenegro.

What happened there is that the impotent nationalism of Boris Tadic is being replaced with aggressive nationalism of Aleksandar Vucic, and together, they have been resting upon the politics that is based on the need allegedly to protect Serbs in the region and their rights, the Montenegrin President said highlighting that the goal of such politics is to undermine the regional stability.

Referring to the recently held Non-Aligned Summit in Belgrade, Djukanovic ironically commented that the most important thing we found out was that Russia supports Serbia.

While commenting on the internal affairs in Montenegro, Djukanovic said that the current state of affairs was not long-term and that the elections were the only right way to come out of it.

This Government is not functional and, having in mind the coalitional character of its constituents, it cannot be functional, and none reshuffle can ameliorate the situation, the Montenegrin President estimated, noting that smaller partners always realize that they have been swallowed by the larger ones.

He believes that the post-election reality brought important knowledge about the Serbian Orthodox Church being an instrument of the Greater Serbia politics, serving to destabilize the neighboring countries and that the pre-election processions were not a movement against allegedly infringed religious rights.

Djukanovic reminded that the pro-European majority in Montenegro was dominant and that it should consolidate. His Democratic Party of Socialists is rising the rating level and according to him, the decision made at the Congress to open the door for a whole new generation of young politicians proved to be right. He said that he was not afraid of divisions in society and that he believed that he was still able to contribute to the creation of better politics in Montenegro.

The United States is fully aware that there are external influences that are trying actively to destabilize and disrupt Montenegro’s democratic progress and derail it from its Euro-Atlantic future, the United States Ambassador to Montenegro Judy Rising Reinke said the opening of the 11th 2BS Forum organized by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro.

She said that the Unites States encouraged all political leaders to do everything they could to unite around shared democratic values including multiculturalism and tolerance, as well as to support a unified, sovereign Montenegro in which all citizens of Montenegro have a home.

Rising Reinke said that she was concerned by the level of divisiveness visible in our society.

When I arrived in Montenegro in 2018, this country was a point of pride in the midst of the Western Balkans. Recent event, however, have stoke tensions, deepening societal divisions, she said, adding that the potential for these divisions to be further exacerbated does exist.

She illustrated that on the example of the United States’ questioning the utility of a national census at this time that focuses on divisive questions like national ethnicity; “certain political forces have been cynically promoting the undertaking hoping it would further drive a wedge between those who identify as Serb and those who identify as Montenegrin, and potentially further marginalizing those who embrace other protected identities.“

Montenegro’s tradition of multiculturalism has long been a stabilizing force in the Western Balkans, the Ambassador said. However, what she sees alarming is the seeming erosion of the celebration of diversity that is particularly visible and escalating political rhetoric.

Rising Reinke appealed to the politicians to stay focused on achieving progress in areas that speed the EU accession process, which would in turn bring prosperous future for the citizens of Montenegro. The United States remains very ready to support constructive dialogue that will lead Montenegro towards its Euro-Atlantic path, the U.S. Ambassador said.

That path means meeting the agenda that includes strengthening the rule of law, confronting trans-national organized crime, rooting out entrenched corruption, and the establishment of independent judiciary, she said. She commended some recent successes in the security sector and the high-profiled arrests of high-profile organized crime cases.

Referring to the position of NATO, she said that that Alliance faced nowadays threats that included some greater power efforts to weaken or even destroy the Alliance. Rising Reinke reminded that NATO remanded only as strong as each and every one of its members’ commitment to the Alliance.

It is essential that all of us, NATO members, do our parts to strengthen the Alliance, whether that means meeting financial obligations or sending military troops to participate at NATO missions that bolster regional cooperation. In that sense, she commended Montenegro as a credible Alliance’s ally.

In the end, the Ambassador said to the people of Montenegro to stay true to the vision of a secure, democratic, and multiethnic Montenegro, one that is destined to take its rightful place among the European democracies as a member of the European Union.

Montenegro cannot and must not allow Serbia, Russia, China one day, or any other country to govern our country, a NATO member state, said the President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro Savo Kentera while opening the 11th 2BS Forum.
Kentera said that this is not only about us anymore, but the whole Alliance and protection of its interests, as well as protection of each NATO member state’s national interests.

He particularly emphasized that we must not allow Montenegro to become an example of causing instability, social divisions, and chaos through the spreading of fake news, intensive disinformation campaign and, generally speaking, malign influence implemented through political parties, individuals, NGO sector, or similar.
What is happening in Montenegro today may become a pattern tomorrow- any member state may be presented as a factor of instability and divisions within NATO. This is not and cannot be in the interest of anyone within the Alliance, he warned.
Pointing out to the fact that during the previous years a particular ambiance was created, resulted in deep divisions backed by a foreign factor, and led us to where we are now, Kentera emphasized that the only way to oppose such condition is to strengthen the institutions of the system.
We need to have the Government that would be capable to close all Chapters with the EU as soon as possible, that will work to make Montenegro the EU member in a couple of years, instead of receiving negative reports from the EU on the other hand. We need the Government that would be engaged in attracting foreign investors and not cause their outflow from Montenegro, the Government that will take care of its citizens and better quality of life instead of adopting or announcing populist measures that it knows are not realistic, Government that would never allow for those who prefer some other country to Montenegro to infiltrate into the security sector. And, the most important, the Government that would support Montenegrin NATO membership not only declaratively, but actively contribute to the strengthening of the Alliance and all its members, the President of the ACM emphasized.
At the same time, he emphasized that the future of our country and the region is only in our hands.
If we themselves do not do something to fight all the threats to the Western civilizational values, in that case, we cannot expect to move forward, he said, expressing the belief that we have enough strength, will, and wisdom to set Montenegro and the region back on the right path.
Reflecting on the whole path of Montenegro, from the independence to nowadays, Kentera said that progress is obvious in many areas. We became a NATO member and therefore, rose the security to the highest level, attracted many investors who saw Montenegro as an exceptional opportunity to invest their capital in the long term. We elevated the level of rule of law, adopting numerous laws in accordance with the EU directives, opened all the Chapters and closed the three of them.
However, there are some areas where a lot more could have been done, first of all, in the field of education, culture, strengthening of the institutions’ independence, Kentera said, adding that the consequences caused by the lack of attention to these areas are visible today.
Commenting on the situation in the region, the President of the ACM emphasized that today, we are in a more difficult situation than we were a couple of years ago. In that context, he mentioned the path that Serbia took – from the constructive factor of peace and stability in the region to the country that compromises the stability of the Western Balkans, due to the political decisions of its leaders.
Unfortunately, today we have a completely different picture. Instead of being the factor of stability in the region, Serbia seems to be returning to the 90s politics, but this time using sophisticated methods, covered by democracy and protection of Serbs in the region. We are witnessing the events in Kosovo and other countries in the region these days. However, the most prominent example of disruption of good neighborhood relations is reflected in the example of Montenegro, said Kentera.
He wondered if Serbia is pursuing such policy due to the election that it needs to gain or to cause instability in the region, or for the interests that Russia wants to achieve in the region while not exposing itself and its people, taught by the poor lessons< from the previous years?

The eleventh 2BS FORUM – one of the leading politico-security conferences in Southeast Europe, organized by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro is being held on Friday, October 15th. This year, the Atlantic Council of Montenegro celebrates 15 years of dedicated work on strengthening democracy, security, and stability in Montenegro and the region.

In order to support and advocate for these ideas, the Forum, as the leading conference of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro and the leading event in the SEE, gathers Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers, MPs, diplomats, representatives of international organizations, and the security experts from both sides of the Atlantic, who will discuss the regional and global trends and challenges.


You can follow the live stream of the conference here

The eleventh 2BS FORUM, one of the leading politico-security conferences in Southeast Europe, organized by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, will take place on October 15, 2021.
This year, the Atlantic Council of Montenegro celebrates 15 years of dedicated work on strengthening democracy, security, and stability in Montenegro and the region. In order to support and advocate for these ideas, the Forum, as the leading conference of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro and the leading event in the SEE, gathers Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers, MPs, diplomats, representatives of international organizations, and the security experts from both sides of the Atlantic, who will discuss the regional and global trends and challenges.
Adapting to the conditions and complying with the COVID-19 preventive measures, the 2BS Forum will be organized this year again in a hybrid format, which implies the organization of the event with the most prominent participants present on-site, in accordance with the restrictions and measures for organizing indoor events. Along with this, it is planned that the speakers from abroad will join via online platforms. You would be able to follow the 2BS Forum live on our official channels.

Education is the only way for societies to fight disinformation in the long run, a dangerous phenomenon that causes serious damage to all countries – was concluded on the panel dedicated to the fight against disinformation, organized within the jubilee tenth 2BS Forum, held on December 11.

Milan Jovanović, from the Digital Forensic Center, believes that the existence of political will and understanding of key decision-makers about the negative implications of this phenomenon is crucial for the success of the fight against fake news in all societies. No fact-checking organization can deal with such a complex phenomenon on its own. The answer must be multi-sectoral, ie it must include the cooperation of fact-checking organizations, the media, but it must also be on the political agenda, he pointed out.

Recalling that disinformation has existed since the language itself, Jovanovic said that, thanks to technology, it has come to the fore and became an everyday topic. Since the 2016 US elections, which are considered a turning point in the global rise of this phenomenon, the use of technology has enabled states, non-state actors, and politicians to spread disinformation, interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, create public opinion, and benefit themselves, he said. He emphasized that technology in its core is not good nor bad, but what we make out of it.

As an example, Jovanovic said that during the last parliamentary elections in Montenegro, the entire country was exposed to an organized campaign and artillery of fake news, primarily from Serbia, to such an extent that the observer could not escape the impression that Montenegro was on the brink of civil war. It was similar when Montenegro was admitted to NATO.

Besides, the current pandemic has also strengthened conspiracy theories and generated many doubts and crooked lines, and the receptivity of these theories to ordinary citizens lies in the fact that they offer easy and uncomplicated answers to complex questions, such as the current pandemic, Jovanovic concluded.

Drawing a parallel between the 2016 U.S. election and this year, Nicholas Yap of the U.S. Atlantic Council said that during this campaign, fake news was much easier to detect and that the proactive approach of fact-checking organizations had a positive result. However, the producers of fake news have themselves changed their tactics, adapted the content, leaving the biggest platforms, and targeting the content to special groups, and they are still successful in that business. He pointed out that now some countries are even making pacts on how to hide hacker attacks or generate fake news, giving them a more authentic look. In that context, he mentioned Russia and Iran. As the only successful way to fight the fake news, he also mentioned education, but also the engagement of the whole society.

Jakub Janda, director of the European Values Think-Tank, pointed to the many similarities between how Russia and China use fake news. They have the same strategic goals in Europe, and that is to squeeze out the United States, to break transatlantic ties, and to achieve their dominant influence in Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans. Unlike aggressive Russia, which uses some countries as proxies, China has a quieter but persistent and firm approach, it buys political influence by finding politicians who, attracted by certain benefits, will promote its interest and spread the misinformation it wants.

Currently, the goals of the disinformation that China is spreading are to remove the blame from that country for the coronavirus pandemic, then to show China as a savior who helps by sharing equipment, and finally to present the United States as a selfish force that does not want to help. He said that China will punish countries in Europe that try to exclude its technology giants from the tender for setting up a 5G network, that it would punish those who have good relations with Taiwan, and that it would try to divert attention from its human rights violations. What worries him is that, unlike the US, Europe has no answer to that. It seems that Europe is not worried, so there is no reason for either China or Russia to change their behavior, concluded Janda.

The U.S. foreign policy will be different under the administration of the new President-elect Joe Biden from the one lead by Donald Tramp, assessed participants at the panel discussion dedicated to the U.S. foreign policy after the Presidential election, organized within the tenth 2BS Forum.

Ivana Stradner, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, believes that Biden administration’s policy would be different from the one led by President Donald Trump. Contrary to Trump’s isolationism, Biden promises more cooperation starting from rejoining some important organizations and politics that Trump withdrew from, she said. However, she emphasizes that the approach needs to be strategically thought-out.

China is leading four agencies within the United Nations (UN) and some decisions it made within those bodies were very much biased and favorable for China. We cannot allow biased decisions to be made within the UN, Stradner said.

She emphasized that Biden’s approach to Russia would be different. Contrary to Trump who was almost silent on Russia, I have reasons to believe that Biden will act differently, she said.

Stradner believes that Biden would return the United States to the head of the table, which would be a shift compared to Trump who started a trade war. Multilateral pressure will be something that the United States will use in future relationships with China, she added. Different politics is expected in the relations with Iran, with diplomacy playing a key role.

Steven Clemons, editor at large at The Hill – the most read U.S. political platform, said that Donald Trump rejected a great deal of heritage the Unites States were built upon.

Joe Biden is a huge advocate of transatlantic relations, but according to him, it is something that we only see on the surface. Clemons emphasizes that a large majority of Americans wonders why we make ties with Europe, if there are countries such as Poland and Hungary which are autocratic and which lead Europe in a different direction.  He added that the transatlantic relationships that were the product of inertia and that had been developed without a goal for such a long period had become chaotic. Clemons wonders if Biden will be able to devote to the foreign policy given the scope of internal challenges and divisions that the Unites States are facing. After Trump, all the relations should be redefined, and Clemons thinks that Biden will do everything to rebuild ties with many countries and to reduce the tensions.

Stefan Fröhlich, chairman at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, said that things we would see under Biden’s rule would be different from what Trump was doing. Especially, there would be no isolationism and insulting of his partners in Europe. However, those who think that we would develop the transatlantic relationship similar to that from the period of Obama are wrong. Times are different, as well as the international surroundings, added Fröhlich. He agreed with Clemons that Biden would find domestic agenda more relevant that the foreign one. Biden will have a different approach towards the foreign policy. Fröhlich added that he would reject Trump’s contempt for the cooperation with European partners, as that was the way to suppress Russian and Chinese expansion, as well as that he would rely more on diplomacy than on military. 

Ambassador Philip Reeker, U.S. State Department Official from the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, stated that the USA were committed to the full integration of the Western Balkans in the EU.

There is no better time than this to reaffirm this commitment, said Reeker who was one of the main speakers at the 2BS Forum and added that the Western Balkan countries were on the right path to accomplish that.

We have the reasons to be optimistic. We see how far Northern Macedonia has come, we recognize dedication to integration when it comes to people in this region and our collective interest is to strengthen these aspirations, Reeker said.

Our vision, the US vision is a stable region, peaceful and integrated in the EU, Reeker said, emphasizing that the strong Balkans implies more stable Europe.

The most important thing that I see is that the Western Balkan countries articulated these aspirations, they brought decisions themselves and we are just helping them to achieve it. We believe that the countries themselves are capable to solve the problems and debatable issues together, Reeker emphasized.

He gave a recognition to many countries in the region, such as Albania and Northern Macedonia, Croatia that presided the EU, showing that they were mature enough to assume the responsibility. As a great sign of encouragement that the things in the region are improving, Reeker mentioned the conciliatory tones which could be heard in Croatia from the Prime Minister Plenkovic and which also contribute to easing the national tensions and reconciliation. He commended the election in Mostar, which were encouraged by the USA and the EU.

The Freedom House report that characterized the situation in Serbia and Montenegro as a hybrid regime caused a certain level of concern, as he said. It is a serious step back in comparison to the situation before.

He expressed gratitude to new Prime Minister of Montenegro Zdravko Krivokapic who is ensuring us that the European and Euro-Atlantic future of Montenegro cannot be put into question. Our partner is the people of Montenegro and we have a continuity of good cooperation through a range of administrations.

Ambassador Reeker assessed that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina must continue, that their potential was not exploited yet. He emphasized the efforts of the USA and EU that Bulgaria gave up on blocking the Northern Macedonia in the accession process and that Skopje could not be blocked, especially after the full commitment to the reforms. We are committed to the resolving of bilateral issues, out of the accession process.

Reeker said that newly elected US President Joe Biden perfectly knew the situation in the region, that he visited it, frequently hosted the local leaders and was familiar with the situation in the Western Balkans. I cannot tell what kind of moves the new administration will make, but I know that there is a continuity of all administrations regardless of their political spectrum when it comes to the fact that the Western Balkans needs to have European future.

He illustrated the claim that Europe as well perceived the Balkans as its part with the amount of aid that the EU and NATO directed towards the countries in the region during the Covid-19 pandemic. Not a single country would be able to provide it itself.

Reeker warned to the fact that particular countries such as Russia could accept the Euro-Atlantic future of the region.

Russia does not realize that this is a choice of the citizens, it is not imposed upon them. Unlike Russia, China is striving to buy the loyalty of the citizens, investing in the infrastructural projects, energetic systems and trying this way to open the doors to its influence, Reeker said.

As long as Moscow is opposing to the commitment of the citizens this strongly, the EU needs to make an effort and do all in its power to help democracy in the region be cemented.

Reeker had a message for the Western Balkans citizens that they should start making history instead of being burdened by it.

Our vision remains the same through different administrations, democratic countries of the Balkans, with responsible authorities that serve to its citizens, Reeker concluded.

Sharyl Cross, Distinguished Professor, and Global Policy Scholar at the Kennan Institute Woodrow Wilson, stated at the 2BS Forum that the support to medical staff and all those on the first line of defense was crucial in order to overcome the crisis, which was exactly what the USA had provided. She reflected on the politicizing of the pandemic, as in the case of masks. The reason for this lies in communication problems, which should not happen. Even though this pandemic is not a traditional security threat, just last week it took more lives than on September 11.

Cross also reflected on the global power relations during the pandemic and concluded that the conflict between Russia and the USA was noticeable.

Marcin Kaczmarski, lecturer in Security Studies at the School of Social and Political Sciences of the University of Glasgow, said at the 2BS panel discussion that a small extent to which COVID-19 had changed the geopolitical competition in the world almost represented a paradox. According to him, the status quo is still in force.

During this pandemic, we witnessed the competition between China, Russia, and the USA, Kaczmarskisaid. He added that the powers were competing on who would handle the crisis better. When it comes to China, Kaczmarski said that the attempt to change the narrative on the pandemic in that country was visible. He emphasized that China presented itself as a country that successfully combatted the pandemic.

Mark Schapiro, Foreign Policy Advisor at the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, also took part in this panel. He said that the main goal of the USA during the pandemic was not to let the health crisis turn into a national security threat. He added that the discipline in informing was crucial in the combat against the pandemic.

The pandemic has been one of the fields that the global leaders were competing in, Schapiro said. However, he also emphasized that the competition between the countries did not imply conflict or animosity.

When it comes to the USA as a global leader, the USA is building this position on the basis of the civil-military partnership.

Schapiro also responded to the observation of Professor Kaczmarski on the global players’ competition during the pandemic. He stated that the power competition did not have to turn into confrontation, or, that it did not imply animosity.

Finally, he said that this represented an international problem that the international response was needed for.

Tatyana Shakleina, Professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said that a better world could not be built upon the aggressive agenda. According to her, in order to make changes to the agenda, the world must focus more on problems such as global warming, environmental pollution, and migration. She added that those were the common problems that may unite us. A better world cannot be built, if we do not make changes to our current agenda, Shakleina said.

Minister of Defense of the Government of Montenegro Olivera Injac stated that the NATO alliance was facing numerous security challenges, but that the most important thing was to preserve unity, solidarity, and coherency.

At the panel entitled #NATO2030: Adapting to the New Security Challenges and New Frontiers, Injac emphasized that in challenging times such as this year, NATO should demonstrate that it was strong enough to adapt to these challenges.

Through history, the Alliance proved that it could adapt to all the challenges. However, right now we should not only adapt but also anticipate the challenges and dangers; we should bear in mind both the things that could be predicted and those that could not, Injac said.

As a special value of the Western military alliance, Injac emphasized both its defense power and the values that the Alliance was cultivating and promoting, and which were improving the society and democracy, giving national politics of the countries the credibility.

Mijo Krešić, Deputy Minister of Defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that NATO acted as a stabilizing factor in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The current times are challenging and we should respond to them, but due to the lack of consensus in B&H, our efforts to access NATO are very slow, he said, expressing the regret that a high number of B&H citizens was not aware of the benefits that NATO membership provides. If we become a NATO member state, we will generate significant progress in our country, he said.

Andrew Michta, Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at George Marshall Center, warned to the complexity of relations on the global scene. Instead of the Cold War world division on two powers, when China was just a small regional player, today’s power ratio is completely different. While Russia is investing in its nuclear capacities wanting to revive the post-war division, it was not until recently and in a short time that China made an unimaginable step forward, and started its domination on the global scene using the values of liberal democracy, said Michta.

The crucial issue for the NATO Allies is how to respond to a challenge of such scope and it seems to me that the key point is how to rebuild the combat power of the Alliance, he said.

Reminding on the great Chinese investment in the armed forces, especially the navy, and its presence on the Pacific, Michta emphasized Europe’s need to invest in the neglected military power. However, he fiercely opposed the creation of a special EU army, considering that it would only weaken the combat power of the allies since it would lead to defense fragmentation.

NATO is the most valuable thing that the allies have and they need to reach consensus on the way they perceive not only Russia but China as well, Michta said.

He reminded that NATO Alliance provided the longest period of peace and prosperity with its existence, not only as a military power but also by promoting the values it was cultivating, which were leading to the prosperity of a society.

Jamie Shea, Professor of Strategy and Security at the University of Exeter, said that the problem of the military alliance was that it was waiting for the problems to emerge and then responded to them. NATO needs to anticipate the problems in order to respond to them more efficiently.

Our enemies do not want to beat us in combat, they are threatening to our lifestyle, they are present in all fields, undermining our trust in democratic values and exposing us to everyday pressures, especially through numerous pieces of disinformation that they are launching. Sometimes, these pressures are different. Look at what China is doing to Australia, Taiwan, what kind of pressure it is exerting, and in what ways it succeeds in doing so, Shea stated.

He believes that democratic governments need to train their citizens to recognize these threats in order to fight them successfully. All citizens need to unite in the defensive front since it is a threat to our lifestyle, he concluded.