The 2016 Coup Attempt in Montenegro: Is Russia’s Balkans Footprint Expanding?
April 12, 2018
On October 15, 2016, the day before Montenegro’s hotly contested legislative elections, Podgorica authorities thwarted an alleged coup attempt. Asserting that the conspirators aimed to prevent Montenegro’s imminent NATO accession, they blamed Moscow as the main instigator. Reflecting on the long-standing historical ties between Russia and Montenegro—and particularly their strong economic relations throughout the 2000s—Moscow’s newfound antagonism appears incongruous. Yet, this case reflects a critical shift in Moscow’s power projection in the Balkans. The decline in commodity prices in the early 2010s crippled Moscow’s economic influence in Montenegro. Shortly after, the annexation of Crimea led to a standoff with the West, in which Montenegrin authorities sided with their soon-to-be European allies. Having lost its foothold in the Balkans, Russia assumed the role of spoiler. While the alleged coup attempt did not bring its intended result of blocking NATO membership, it successfully exacerbated political and identity rifts within Montenegrin society, thus heralding Russia’s new strategy for influence in the Balkans.