With a population of a little more than 650,000 citizens, Montenegro is NATO’s newest and smallest member. It joined the Alliance controversially and without a majority of public support in June 2017 (“The World Factbook: Montenegro”). Though Montenegro is small, its admission into NATO is viewed as a big win for the Alliance. The NATO win, however, is not in terms of what Montenegro can provide militarily – it has an army of a mere 2,000 soldiers – but in terms of the message it sends to Russia and other Western Balkan nations.
However, despite NATO membership, Russian influence in the country remains significant and has shown no signs of going away. This influence is seen in nearly all levels of Montenegrin society, but most prominently in the economic, political, civil society, media, and religious realms. Russia relies heavily on disinformation and uses its proxy agents to promote its agenda directly and indirectly in the country. The high level of corruption in Montenegro and its weak institutions provides the fuel that allows Russian influence to take hold and infiltrate all levels of society without any recourse. This poses a major threat not only to Montenegro, but to the broader Western Balkan region and to both NATO and the EU. It also damages Montenegro’s chances of EU accession in 2025, which the majority of the population supports, and feels is necessary for Montenegro’s economic prosperity.