The Washington Post: Ukraine is not a country, Putin told Bush

12:05 • 21.07.18



By Daniel Baer


Eighteen months into his presidency, Donald Trump continues to display near-complete ignorance about how NATO works and why the alliance matters. He tweets that the United States gives 4 percent of its GDP to NATO.  He sees NATO as a charity project for Europeans rather than a cornerstone of US national security. The Washington Post learned from his Fox News interview with Tucker Carlson on Tuesday night, he is willing to call into question Article 5 — the alliance’s mutual defense provision. He appears either unable to comprehend that an ironclad commitment to Article 5 is at the heart of NATO, or is purposefully undermining the alliance in the wake of his traitorous performance in Helsinki.


In his interview, Carlson didn’t evoke Article 5 with respect to Germany or France. He chose to pick on tiny Montenegro. Despite Montenegro’s having joined NATO only last year, during Trump’s presidency, Trump readily agreed. He bizarrely characterized Montenegrins as “aggressive” and suggested that our commitment to defend them might ensnare us in “World War III.”


Most commentators seized on the fact that by publicly questioning Article 5, which has been invoked only once — in defense of the United States after the 9/11 attacks — Trump had done further damage to NATO and, no doubt, elicited more glee in the Kremlin. But Carlson and Trump’s example was also curious because Montenegro is exactly where Putin himself might start if he were seeking to undermine NATO solidarity. In 2008, Putin told a surprised George W. Bush that “Ukraine is not a country”; during their one-on-one meeting on Monday, did Putin tell Trump — in one way or another — that “aggressive” Montenegro shouldn’t be in NATO?


In the months preceding NATO’s invitation to Montenegro to begin the accession process in December 2015, my Russian counterparts in Vienna at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, where I was the US ambassador, grew increasingly vocal. They never talked about Montenegro’s joining NATO; instead they expounded with dramatic flourish about political divisions and unrest, painting a picture of a dysfunctional and troubled country, trying to turn NATO members against the idea. I understood what they were doing, but I remember thinking: “It’s amazing how much the Russians care about Montenegro joining NATO.”


Montenegro is a jewel of a country on the Adriatic, one of seven countries that ultimately emerged from the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. It is a young democracy and, like others, continues to fight corruption. While it does have a coast, it’s hard to imagine a port in Montenegro posing a direct challenge to Russia. Its small population of around 620,000 includes a military of just under 2,000 people with a budget well under $100 million. It is good to have Montenegro in the NATO family — and it has contributed troops to NATO’s missions in Afghanistan for years, even before it was a member — but Montenegro does not dramatically change the total military capability of the alliance.


But NATO did dramatically enhance the independence and prospects of Montenegro. On the day NATO’s invitation was announced, my Montenegrin colleague in Vienna was grinning widely.  She had helped negotiate Montenegro’s independence a decade earlier, and as she hugged me she declared, “It’s as if a weight that has been on my shoulders forever, for my whole life, has been lifted.”


Then I realized: The reason the Russians cared so much about blocking NATO membership is that they knew it would reduce their ability to manipulate Montenegro and would remove a chess piece from a board on which they sought to challenge Europe. Indeed, in the months after NATO’s invitation, Russia continued its attempts to stymie Montenegro’s path by stirring up internal unrest through propaganda, paid protesters and even an attempted coup. They failed.

 

 





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