Saturday, July 21, 2018

Trump dances to the Russian foreign policy tune on Montenegro

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi Daily News, July 25, 2018, https://www.skyhinews.com/news/opinion/muftic-trump-dances-to-the-russian-tune-on-montenegro/


Trump dances to the Russian foreign policy tune one again, this time immediately after the Helsinki one on one meeting with Vladimir Putin.  In an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox, July 17, 2018, Trump said that NATO member Montenegro is an “aggressive” nation and he tried   to scare his listeners to believe it is a flashpoint for World War. III.. The implication is that the US should not come to its defense if attacked by Russia.   What a dangerous and ignorant position. "Aggressive Montenegro" has 625,000 inhabitants, less than the size of the City and County of Denver.  Its 2000 person army is only 500 more than Denver's police force. What they have is a fjord, the Bay of Kotor, the deepest and best warm water haven for submarines and military fleets in the Mediterranean area. Russians has tried throughout history to control it, including an attempted coup in October 2016 as Russia tried to thwart Montenegro’s membership application to NATO.  This spooked the US. National defense officials so much that the Senate approved their admission to NATO in 2017 to block Russian control of it.

The only flashpoint to World War III is if Russia took it over by force or by a coup. (it is far away from Russia' borders) in order to control the fjord. They tried and failed in 2016 and Montenegro saw its future in the West and sought NATO membership.  The only deterrent to that is NATO membership that would trigger a  response.. The aggressor is Russia, not Montenegro.  The best deterrent is NATO's pledge to respond and Russia's fear that we would.  Weakening that pledge would only invite Russia's attempt once again to grab the country and control the fjord. 

This is more evidence of Trump’s continued lock step support of Russia’s foreign policy goal to cripple NATO and to give the green light for Russia to march or sneak into Baltic and Balkan members of NATO as they did in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, and Georgia. What national security interests do we have in the Baltics and Balkans? Those tiny countries, once part of the Soviet empire or sphere of influence, have warm water ports giving all weather direct access to the Atlantic and /or the Mediterranean. The Baltics with NATO troops at Russia’s border irritate Putin, too. If NATO falls apart, Russia can invade or stealthily take them over without fear that other NATO nations would defend them.

 Let us hope that this was not one of the topics Trump and Putin discussed in their Helsinki closed meeting. Did Trump promise Putin he would not invoke Article Five if Russia tried to take over Montenegro? The timing is highly suspicious since Trump had never raised the specter of his objections to defending Montenegro until just after this secretive meeting with Putin. For Trump to consider modern Russia under Putin to be our friend and not our foe is outright stupid and dangerous given Russia’s attack on our 2016 elections and their stealth or outright military takeover of eastern Ukraine, Crimea and Georgia. This is why what happened in Helsinki shouldn’t stay in Helsinki.

At stake is NATO and the reason for its being. is Article Five. A mutual defense treaty that declares an attack against one NATO member is considered as an attack against all allies and allies should rally in defense of their defiled member. Trump has gone out of his way to avoid pledging support of Article Five whenever he has been asked directly about it. That is extremely troubling.  He has fomented in his rhetoric and statements from campaign time until now the false notion that NATO is not important to the security of the US, and especially unworthy of our defense are the tiny countries of the Baltics and the Balkans. According to him, NATO only exists for the safety of Europe and we are doing them an expensive favor.   Our defense alliance with Europe has bought us seventy years of peace. Our isolationism from Europe bought us World War II. Our national security and Europe’s are still entwined.

The number of accusations thrown at Trump in the wake of Helsinki are many. Looking at the total picture of Trump's foreign policy that often advances Russian national security interests (breaking up NATO, trashing and refusing to commit to mutual defense of the Baltics and Balkans, and denying and obstructing investigations into Russian meddling and hacking into US democracy), I will add mine to the list: Putin's enabler. Whether that is treason, or Putin has a compromat on him, or he is Putin's useful idiot, a Putin puppet , a collaborator, a colluder, a conspirator, a traitor, much of that rests on the findings of Mueller. For now it is fair to say that he is an enabler of Russian security interests that rarely coincide with ours. Whatever we call him, we can be sure that this will fall on deaf ears of the lower 40% polled who still approve of him who forgive him of any transgressions and we can only hope that the rest of the voters are paying attention with open minds and wide open eyes focused on national security concerns and the preservation of American democracy.

https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/russia/warm-water-port.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montenegrin_coup_plot

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montenegro%E2%80%93Russia_relations

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5967001/Montenegro-aggressive-lead-World-War-III-Trumps-attacks-NATO-ally.html

There is a history that includes Paul Manfort and Montenegro.  Below is a blog post of March 2017 during the debate of whether Montenegro should be admitted to NATO. Pay attention to the Balkan Reports description of the strategic position of the Bay of Kotor and Russian designs on controlling it...far more important to them than grabbing Crimea.
The posts:

Update 4/12/2017: Pres. Trump agreed to admit Montenegro into NATO, expanding NATO.
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-nato-montenegro-idUSKBN17D1XL

There is a Russian/Manafort connection with Montenegro dating years ago, but before NATO is an application for membership.  At their first  NATO meeting during the time of the Trump administration,
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will not attend and will be in Moscow instead.  The Russian interest in Montenegro is historic.  Sen. McCain has been interested and knowledgeable about Montenegro and got embroiled over a spat with Libertarian isolationist Rand Paul. The spat got personal.  The following post is from a facebook posting recently.  The Manafort Russian connection is most likely the subject of the FBI investigation into Russian influence in the US Presidential Elections in 2016.

Per Balkan Reports, the impression of those in the Balkans is that Secretary of State Tillerson supports Montenegro's membership in NATO.  The entire Balkans are concerned with Russia's increasing influence and presence in their region and look at this as a way to counter this.

The Manafort/Russian/McCain issue  connection was described in https://www.thenation.com/article/mccains-kremlin-ties/


 The Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. that is one of the best in the Mediterranean which Russia has coveted for centuries. It is particularly suited for submarines.It is located directly across the narrow Adriatic sea from Italy. Russia had tried to stealth take over Montenegro by huge investments in real estate and energy. However, the situation is not simple in politics there, but bringing Montenegro into NATO is a historical opportunity to block Russia's attempt to grab the port there. It is far more important to US strategic interest because of the port than even the Ukraine or Georgia. Paul is the one looking unhinged; not McCain. So important is that port to Russia that recently uncovered was an attempt to assassinate the PM of Montenegro who was advocating joining NATO. Russia was using Serbian operatives.

https://www.stratfor.com/sample/analysis/russia-stirs-hornets-nest

http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/montenegro-s-hopes-rise-as-us-secretary-urged-nato-addmission-03-22-2017

Strategic importance of Montenegro to NATO, NATO wants to control the Adriatic and maybe in the future use it as a naval base
https://www.rferl.org/a/montenegro-nato-key-ally-or-adriatic-afterthought/28508845.html
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