Flight ban for Russia's Lavrov sparks Montenegro row
The head of the Montenegrin parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, Miodrag Lekic, has criticized the lack of transparency around a decision to close the Balkan state’s airspace to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Sunday.
The move, which was supported by Bulgaria and North Macedonia, derailed the Russian diplomat’s planned visit to Serbia.
In his statement on Monday, quoted by local media outlets, the lawmaker questioned “whether and at which session a Montenegrin state body decided not to allow the Russian foreign minister to fly over our territory.” The MP noted that diplomatic contacts remain in place between Russia and EU member states, as well as Turkey, which – like Montenegro – aspires to join the European bloc. A “technical precondition” for such contacts is uninterrupted flights for top officials, he said.
He proceeded to question whether the “Montenegrin authorities make decisions autonomously” or first consult the EU and NATO, or even “receive impetus from third parties.” The MP emphasized that he did not necessarily take issue with those moves per se, as he was strongly opposed to “Russia’s invasion and aggression against Ukraine.” However, Montenegrin citizens should not be kept in the dark about such key decisions, Lekic argued.
The lawmaker also suggested that the authorities in Podgorica are doubling down on Russophobia in the hope of expediting Montenegro’s accession to the EU and possibly also in order to shift the focus away from the unscrupulous activities of some Montenegrin politicians.
In the absence of a meaningful response, the MP is threatening to summon the officials responsible to a “public control hearing at the Committee on International Relations and Emigrants” of the Montenegrin parliament.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was due to visit Serbia on Monday and Tuesday. However, on Sunday, Serbian media outlet Vechernie Novosti reported that three countries surrounding Serbia – Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Montenegro – had closed their airspace to Lavrov’s flight, effectively blocking the diplomat’s visit to Belgrade.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, later confirmed the report.
Speaking to Serbia’s state broadcaster Radio-Television Serbia on Monday, President Aleksandar Vucic said he had not “seen the kind of hysteria for a long time that little Serbia has been exposed to in Europe and around the world due to the arrival of Lavrov.”
“You can’t believe how much pressure there was on Serbia because of that visit,” Vucic told the journalists.
He went on to accuse the EU of hypocrisy as the bloc is apparently exerting nowhere near as much pressure on Turkey, which will soon welcome Lavrov.
Commenting on his aborted trip to Serbia on Monday, Lavrov himself said the “unthinkable has happened,” with a sovereign state being effectively deprived “of the right to carry out its foreign policy.”
“The international activities of Serbia have been blocked, at least for now, in the Russian direction,” the foreign minister said.
“We won’t mince our words here, it’s yet another vivid and didactic demonstration of how far NATO and the EU will go in employing the cheapest means to pressure those who aren’t guided by their national interest and aren’t ready to sacrifice their principles and dignity for the sake of the rules that the West is imposing as a substitute for international law,” Lavrov added.
Russia has now invited Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic to visit Moscow instead.
The EU had earlier decided to close its airspace to Russian planes in response to the military offensive launched by Moscow in Ukraine in late February.