In December 2015, Montenegro opted to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and in doing so categorcially rebuffed two years of Russian efforts to secure a port there for the replenishment and repair of Russian military vessels. Russia then embarked on a new strategy: stoking political and ethnic divisions to destabilize Montenegro and preclude further Western integration. In the Kremlin’s best-case scenario, a pro-Russia government would come to power and reverse Montenegro’s Euro-Atlantic course. To this end, Russia coordinated with local opposition and Serb ethno-nationalists in an unsuccessful attempt to topple the democratically elected government of Montenegro in October 2016.
Despite the coup’s failure, the future of Montenegro’s progress toward Western integration remains uncertain. The institutional actors behind the failed coup attempt remain largely in place and steadfastly opposed to NATO membership. Should they come to power, they likely would withdraw Montenegro from the Alliance, retract its recognition of Kosovo, and potentially reunite with Serbia. Thus, to prevent the reversal of Montenegro’s Western trajectory, the U.S. and its NATO allies immediately must work to deepen their engagement with the country. Without undertaking measures to strengthen military cooperation, facilitate democratic reforms, accelerate the European Union accession process, and renew financial support for programs in the rule of law, the West is unprepared to counter Russia’s destabilizing efforts.