NATO masses troops along Russian border, war becomes possible scenario - peace movement leader
NATO could expand its presence - again, this time with Montenegro bidding for membership of the alliance. The country's government insists the decision is supported by the majority of the people, but polls show otherwise - almost half of Montenegro is against the idea. Memories of the Yugoslavian conflict, where the people were bombed by NATO planes, are still alive. So why is the government going for membership? And will it become a blessing - or another problem? We ask journalist and a member of the "No to war - No to NATO " peace movement. Gojko Raicevic is on Sophie&Co today.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Gojko Raicevic, leader of the “No to War - No to Nato” peace movement which advocates for Montenegro’s neutrality, welcome to the show, it’s really great to have you with us. Now, Gojko, Montenegro just signed a NATO Accession Protocol, and country’s PM Milo Đukanović is saying Montenegro has made its choice and it’s going West, no matter what. But study shows that around half of Montenegro’s population is against joining NATO. Why is mr. Đukanović so sure the country has made the right choice?
Gojko Raicevic: First of all you have to understand that mr. Đukanović is not a trustworthy person. Đukanović, for 27 years since he’s in his post, he changed his politics ever so often. Remember, that he was part of the military action on Dubrovnik and then afterwards he was regretting it and being involved in a cigarette smuggling afterwards, he was a victim of Brussels and Washington’s blackmailing, so he has to do whatever Washington and Brussels are asking. So, I wouldn’t think of Đukanović and his attitude as something that is even permanent, it is something that could be changed and it has been proven in the past. So, I wouldn’t rely on whatever he said - you just don’t do it.
SS: NATO says accepting Montenegro means expanding its security umbrella - what kind of protection will NATO offer to Montenegro? Does the country need external protection from anything?
GR: NATO is a source of problems, NATO is not a solution to any problems. That’s the fact, and we know that very well, living in Balkans, and having experienced NATO for the last 20 years, when they started the action - more than 20 years ago, in Republika Srpska and later on with their bombing campaign against Yugoslavia - so NATO is just not the solution. We have a problem with NATO and we don’t see NATO as a solution to the problem.
SS: I know, but can NATO offer Montenegro a protection in any shape or form? What about global threats like terrorism? Or the refugee crisis that’s unraveling next door? Does Montenegro need assistance to resist these dangers?
GR: First of all, you have to know that the NATO made this crisis - that’s NATO policy. The refugees are not a sudden thing to happen, it’s something that has been very well planned in order to weaken Europe, by the U.S. plans, and then becoming a solution to a problem. So, even in NATO, I have been witnessing it as an activist of “No to War - No to Nato” in Brussels recently, when one of the officials said that on top of their priorities, it’s not the refugee crisis neither the terrorism. The top priority for NATO is the danger coming from the East, from Russia. So, they don’t know what’s going on with refugee crisis, especially they don’t see a problem that Montenegro would eventually have due to refugees. So, I think it’s just a change of thesis.
SS: Now, the memories of the ‘99 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia which Montenegro was part of, are still very fresh. Do people feel like joining NATO is like joining their former enemy? How does that sit with them?
GR: First of all, we have to know that people in Montenegro are very much against NATO, and the same thing is in Serbia, or in Republika Srpska. So,it’s just simply because we experienced that very well. People were, from the very beginning, against this idea, but on the other side, you have a very strong campaign going for it, especially in the last 10 years since Montenegro got independence, that we have daily campaign from TV, press, other media, telling us how good is the idea of becoming part of NATO. People in Montenegro are very much aware that the target for NATO is Russia and, as people of Montenegro and Slavs generally, we are very much attached to Russia and most of us found Russia as a cradle, as a native place where we came from. On the other side, the civilization values would work against any idea that a civilized person would vote - on potential eventual referendum - for NATO, so…
SS: Wait, wait. So why hasn’t there been a nation-wide referendum on joining NATO? Is there still a chance one will happen?
GR: We work on this daily. We are protesting, we are asking the government to definitely organise the referendum, once we were in a position like that, but obviously, that referendum we have experienced 10 years ago has been stolen, the results have been played, and, on the other side, the Western countries, and, unfortunately, Russia and Serbia, recognized the results of the referendum, which I believe, in this case, wouldn’t happen if we succeed in our efforts organize this referendum…
SS: Why isn’t the current government holding the referendum? I mean, you’re saying majority of people are against, the polls show it’s really 50/50, right? So why isn’t the current government holding the referendum?
GR: First of all, people in Montenegro are very much scared. They live under pressure, so even when they’re giving an answer to this elemental question here, they are looking around: would to be able to speak free, and to say what they really think? So, even in this situation, we have much over 50% of people who are against NATO. NATO, even if Russia carries on sleeping on this issue, not getting involved - which I deeply believe that Russia should take much firmer…
SS: My question was - why doesn’t the current government hold the referendum?
GR: They’re simply scared. Even in this situation we are now, they are scared to organize the referendum because they know that even with all that mechanisms they have to steer the results, they are not good enough to steer it that much, as they need to win on the referendum with the idea of becoming part of NATO.
SS: So, in your neighboring Serbia, NATO is leading a publicity campaign, to attract public support. How is NATO bolstering its image in your country, in Montenegro?
GR: First of all, the Montenegrin press, the Montenegrin media is generally under control either of Montenegrin government or NATO countries. So, the outcome is simple: media is following the regime’s campaign, which is pro-NATO, and Western-financed media in Montenegro, obviously, they follow their donors - so we have a very NATO-media picture in Montenegro, apart from very few single voices, the rest are just deeply under control of the Western countries, NATO countries or the regime.
SS: Now, you lead a news portal that goes against the official line - have you ever faced any repercussions for the views that you promote?
GR: The IN4S newsroom is regularly targeted by the regime authorities. So, people are walking into the IN4S newsroom under the surveillance by the secret service, and we have proven that a few times - we have a documentary on that. Plus, there are some other measures that they’re using that are not really popular in democratic countries.
SS: So, NATO is a military alliance, and Montenegro has about only 2,000 active duty personnel - why does the NATO need Montenegro? I mean, it’s not like the country will contribute to the alliance with this military?
GR: Frankly, the Montenegrin army is something that no one takes seriously. But, what is important in all this game is that Montenegro is the only part of the Mediterranean apart from Syria which is not under NATO control. So that’s a small strip by Mediterranean which is about 100 or some more kilometers - that’s what is left out of complete control of NATO power. So, that’s the answer to your question. It’s not the 2,000 soldiers nor the technology the Montenegro has, not the ballistic missiles or something. It’s just simply NATO needs to cover Mediterranean and have a full control over it.
SS: Prime Minister Đukanović said that country's historic ties with Russia aren't going to be severed once Montenegro is part of NATO. Is Prime Minister's resolve realistic?
GR: No, of course. Just, as I said at the very beginning, you should not trust what he says. Obviously, he would like to have a good connection with Russian Federation, as long as the Russian Federation would keep their eyes closed on the fact that they would become part of Russia's enemy. So, you just can not sit in two places, as much as you would like to do it. So, just don't take that seriously - he doesn't care, otherwise he would not have joined the sanctions, or he wouldn't do other anti-Russian things he has done in the past.
SS: Prime Minister also said that Montenegro is for NATO and not against Russia - is that the case?
GR: Well, it can’t be true If I got your question right. Once you become part of NATO, and you know who is controlling it - it's Washington's game - then you are becoming part of Russia's enemy. So, there are no other possibilities in this situation.
SS: So, it would mean that if Montenegro is indeed historically friendly with Russia, its accession to NATO would mean that Russia will have a friend in the hostile alliance, right?
GR: Yeah. I don't know, to me it's a bit funny attitude, this idea of having that sort of Montenegrin role in NATO. It just would take time… So, a short reminder: a hundred years ago, Montenegrins were 100% russophilia. No, you've got that changed, through the campaign of Hollywood and Coca-Cola in Montenegro and lack of Russian "soft power" which is based just on Russian Classics, unfortunately, in Montenegro, and that would go on, the attitude of people, it was just, unfortunately, change.
SS: So, the President of the Socialist People's Party in Montenegro is also saying that NATO membership could drag Montenegro into NATO's problems - meaning, wars in the Middle East. Do you share that concern at all?
GR: Of course. Once you've become part of NATO, then, I believe, you've got to share the problems, nothing else will be shared apart from problems. So yes, I would agree with that.
SS: Montenegro is also an official candidate for the EU membership. Do you think its EU aspirations would get a boost by joining NATO?
GR: No. British Ministry of Defense was quite clear that they are not interested in Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Turkey, because with them in the EU they would have "murderers", they would get "criminals" and "assassins". So, they are not really interested. Prime Minister, he was he was adjusting that statement later on and he believes that Turkey would become part of EU in something like 180 years from now.
SS: Well, NATO takes pride in being an alliance of democracies. Does the fact that Montenegro has been ruled by one man for the last... I think it was 25, but you said in the beginning it was 27 years - does it not concern the alliance?
GR: Of course not. As long as he's fulfilling the request coming from Brussels, or Washington, he's going to stay in power. Otherwise he could be indicted as war criminal for the part he took in early 90s, for secret smuggling, again, in 90s, over which many court cases in Italy, Switzerland and Germany are being open and closed and re-opened. Before his rule, he was a head of the organized crime group, and, then, just purely because he fulfills all the requests coming from those two addresses - he's still in power and he's going to be in power until he fulfills the last request, brining the Montenegro into NATO.
SS: Your government argues that joining EU and NATO will help Montenegro's economy expand - can NATO membership help Montenegro become a more attractive target of Western investment?
GR: Probably as much as they help in Romania, Albania or Croatia. Croatia is our neighboring country, four years before they became part of NATO, their gross product was 4 times larger than 4 years after they joined the NATO, so I don't believe in that story, no one believes.
SS: Montenegro has joined EU sanctions against Russia. A move that President said was a pragmatic political decision to boost its chances as a EU and a NATO candidate - but Russian business and tourism has really strong presence in your state. Why is Montenegro willing to harm its economic interests to get to West's approval?
GR: Because Đukanović counts on a “broad Russian soul” and he's counting on that Russia is not going to notice that sanctions coming from Montenegro are in power - as, probably, you don't really have any significant... So, Russia would probably not notice these sanctions because there's no economic results coming from Montenegro to Russia. It’s just simply that we are benefiting from good ties with Russians, because the majority of the tourists in Montenegro are coming from Russia, and they're making something like 50% of the entire tourist population during the year. On the other hand, Đukanović was counting that Russia would just take it as a "naughty little young brother" who's just being naughty and it's going to forgive him. I believe that's what he's counting on.
SS: The U.S. Representative to NATO, Douglas Lute says that accepting Montenegro into the alliance "sends a strong signal to Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina", because of the security that's guaranteed by NATO troops; and even Serbia, where anti-NATO sentiment is especially strong, has signed a cooperation agreement with NATO. Is the alliance planning to take over the whole Balkan region?
GR: As much guaranteed as what they’ve given to Cyprus, for example. Probably, it's equal to what they're going to do in Montenegro. So, I don't trust that, no one trusts that - we know that by becoming part of NATO you don't get any extra security. The argument can be countered in a second. So, the only time they put Article Five in power was after September 11 - and they kept their eyes closed in Madrid, in Paris, recently, in the heart of NATO - in Brussels. So, you just don't trust as the part of the security. Simply, in Brussels, NATO said: That’s the matter of the Belgian police, not NATO". So, there's no security in becoming part of NATO. Montenegro is not going to be a more secure place, even more, it's going to be less secure, because we are going to be eligible targets for all these islamic groups, fighting NATO countries, if they do that.
SS: But, if all the Balkan states join NATO - will that, maybe, ensure peace between them in the future? Like, no return to the carnage of the Balkan conflict of the 90s. Will it bring the stability that the NATO's General-Secretary claims?
GR: We have an example, between two NATO countries, Turkey and Greece. They've been involved in a direct war for 7 days, and NATO didn't do much about it, to stop it before it started, or to stop it even after it started. So, there's no security in NATO, that's for sure.
SS: So, NATO members are supposed to contribute troops and gear to a common military of the bloc. But, not everyone is bothering to pitch in: Der Spiegel cited a secret NATO report that says that, for instance, Romania and Lithuania contributed nothing in 2014 at all. Why is NATO being so lax with its own rules inside the alliance?
GR: The rules and they word that NATO is giving - it’s just a big question mark. Remember 1989, they promised they are not going to spread towards East, once the Berlin wall has fallen, and we know what happened after that. We know, the Article 5 was engaged once and they had opportunity to use it a few times, and they bombed, against their own statute and the rules of the international community, bombed in 1999 the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and they are proclaiming the rule of law and democracy level in certain states is, sort of, “amassed" in order to become part of the strongest military power in the world. So, this is not the case, there's no democracy and rule of law in many of those countries - Turkey, Albania, Croatia with nazism raising day by day. So, they are bending their own rules from the time they were put in 1949.
SS: So, NATO insists its expansion is not aimed against Russia, and it's calling for a new meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. As bloc's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says, "NATO wants political dialogue with Moscow" - and at the same time, it's bolstering its eastern forces, planning to station 4,000 troops in the Baltic states and Poland. Can you restore dialogue in this situation? I mean, what kind of reaction is it expecting from Moscow?
GR: I would call for a dialogue, obviously. But, there should be a normal space for dialogue. If you, from day to day, amass your own troops close to the Russian borders, from Baltic states to Romania, recently, and on the other hand, you are calling for dialogue... these are sort of double standards that NATO is playing with, so, unfortunately we have to be prepared for the war scenario. It’s not just me being pessimistic talking about it, I am being realistic.
SS: Thank you so much for this interview, mr. Raicevic. We were talking to Gojko Raicevic, Montenegrin journalist, leader of the "No to War - No to NATO" peace movement, discussing Montenegro's bid to join NATO and the repercussions of that decision. That's it for this edition of the Sophie&Co, I'll see you next time.