Threats to Democratic Processes in Montenegro: Influence Mapping

A new study by the Digital Forensic Center entitled Threats to Democratic Processes in Montenegro: Influence Mapping aims to present the problems and challenges Montenegro is facing against the background of global political, social, and economic disturbances after the first transition of power in thirty years.

The study can be found HERE. Below are the key messages.

For now, Montenegro’s NATO membership guarantees its survival on its Western path. The direction in which the development of Montenegrin society will move further will also depend to a significant extent on the attitude of Western partners and allies towards Montenegro because it is evident that the current problems it faces after the first transition of power in thirty years are mainly strongly encouraged by those actors who are in permanent conflict with Western values and who use every opportunity to undermine or at least slow down the European path of the Western Balkan states.

Against the background of global political, social, and economic disturbances and the increasingly visible offensive of authoritarian regimes opposed to the Western concept of liberal democracy, which was manifested in its most rigid form by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, one can also observe serious ethnic, religious, political and social turmoil in the region of the Western Balkans.

Dissatisfaction and disappointment with the slow pace of European and Euro-Atlantic integrations also contribute to this. The weakening prospects of EU accession have further slowed down the region’s processes, characterized by local leaders’ efforts to strengthen their positions and stay in power by combining nationalist and populist rhetoric while declaratively advocating for European integration.

Nationalist factions throughout the region, emerging from an ideological synergy of pro-Russian political factors and leaders within the Serbian Orthodox Church, perceive Russia under Vladimir Putin as a protector of the Orthodox people and view the Russian invasion of an Orthodox country like Ukraine as natural and within Russia’s historical right. Pro-Serbian political entities in Montenegro largely align their actions with Belgrade’s policies.

On the other side, numerous problems that burden Montenegrin society have accumulated during the three decades of DPS rule. During that period, although in a completely different external political context, a strong influence of the Russian factor in Montenegro was also enabled, which manifested in various forms.

The ideological and value framework for all pro-Russian and pro-Serbian political subjects, organizations, and associations is provided by the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) based in Belgrade. At the moment, it represents the only foreign policy instrument of the state of Serbia, given the fact that its religious jurisdiction extends beyond the Serbian state borders and covers the territory from the aspect of the implementation of the Serbian world project, particularly areas of interest in Montenegro, Bosnia, and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

The SOC achieved significant success in the process of desecularization of society in Montenegro. Since 2020 and the initiation of protest processions due to the adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion, the SOC actively participates in making key political decisions, with an undisguised role in personnel combinatorics during the formation of the 42nd Government of Zdravko Krivokapić. Issues of interest to the SOC had a decisive impact on the work of the 43rd Government of Dritan Abazović, despite the signed coalition agreement based on the European agenda.

That religious organization affects the change in the character of society from civil to theocratic. SOC was continuously involved in anti-NATO, anti-Western rallies, protests and demonstrations, as well as campaigns for parliamentary and local elections. For years, public opinion surveys have ranked the Serbian Orthodox Church as an institution at the top regarding citizens’ trust.

The synergy between the actions of the ROC and the SOC also carries a risk for European security. The SOC is used as a tool for destabilization and participation in the political life of certain countries, which is part of the tactics that enable the Kremlin to achieve its goals in the Balkans. The European Parliament also indicated the role of the SOC in promoting Russian influence in its Resolution on foreign interference in democratic processes, adopted in March 2022.

Although there are no registered official Russian media in Montenegro, pro-Kremlin propaganda is present, given that most pro-regime Serbian media outlets place their content in the public space of Montenegro. Only on April 20, 2022, Montenegro agreed with the European Union’s foreign policy regarding sanctions against Russia by banning the broadcasting of Russia Today and Sputnik. Nevertheless, despite the decision of the Council of the Agency for Electronic Media (AEM), the mentioned portals can be accessed unhindered from Montenegro. The most significant role in promoting pro-Russian and pro-Serbian narratives in Montenegro is played by the unregistered portal IN4S.

The new personnel decisions from May 2022 in the security sector, primarily in the National Security Agency, restored the trust of Western partners and paved the way for joint actions in suppressing malign foreign influence in Montenegro. The epilogue of action, carried out on September 29, 2022, by partner agencies and Montenegrin competent authorities, was the denial of residence for six Russian diplomats and the ban on entry to Montenegro for 28 foreign citizens. few days after the mentioned activities, the Government of Montenegro, without a clear and precisely articulated explanation, according to an urgent procedure (in a telephone session), dismissed the head of the National Security Agency, thus calling into question its commitment to the fight against Russian malign activity.

Information warfare, adapted to the geopolitical circumstances of the 21st century, ranks high in Russia’s arsenal of tools for achieving political and other goals in the world. From Russia’s perspective, the information war is ongoing. The tools used to conduct it include all possible means at their disposal – from disinformation campaigns and the abuse of their networks and media to cyber-attacks on institutions of different countries. In this sense, the security events from late August 2022 again shed light on hybrid Russian activity in Montenegro, this time through a well-organized intelligence network.

It is certain that, depending on the development of the situation in Ukraine, Russia will try to conduct dispersion of the crisis and resolve a range of security issues that should be addressed by NATO and EU structures. The fact is that Montenegro, due to the action of various internal and external factors contrary to the expectations of Western partners and allies, has come into the spotlight as a potentially critical point in the region.