Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seems to have awakened the European Union to the strategic importance of the Balkans, but Montenegro’s president warned it may be too late.
Pro-Western president Milo Djukanovic said that the volatile region has become a ‘platform’ for anti-EU policies due to the bloc’s ‘negligence’.
‘Russia has simply walked into an open space left by the European Union,’ he said.
‘The EU in the past 10 years didn’t know what to do with the western Balkans, but Russia did. It has developed its network in the Balkans.’
Mr Djukanovic, who has been mostly in power since 1991, first as president, then as prime minister, holding four mandates, and then again president since 2018, is facing an election this Sunday.
He spoke about the Kremlin’s influence in the Balkans and unresolved disputes in the region as he unofficially prepares to give up his throne.
His challenger in the two-candidate runoff is ex-economy minister Jakov Milatovic who has the support of the government, which includes parties seeking closer ties with Serbia and Russia.
This is why analysts in Montenegro think this political newcomer stands a decent chance of winning.
With an early parliamentary election scheduled for June 11, this weekend’s vote is considered an important indicator of the future path of the Nato member nation of 620,000 people.
A political stalemate has stalled the country’s path to the union and raised fears of instability as the war rages in Ukraine.
Mr Djukanovic said the presidential election presents a choice between his pro-EU policies and the ‘brutal populism’ of the current coalition government.
But many say it is time for a change as his Democratic Party of Socialists governed the country more or less unchallenged for three decades.
Mr Djukanovic said: ‘For the past two and a half years, we have witnessed serious stumbling by Montenegro.’
The coalition government has pledged that the country would remain on its path to the EU.
But challenger, Mr Milatovic, also has expressed support for the country pursuing membership.
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