Russian Sanctions Pose Particular Strains on Aspiring EU and NATO Candidate States (7/3)     Print Email
Thursday, 03 July 2014

By Lauren Gieseke, Editorial Assistant

When the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia on March 17, Catherine Ashton announced that Montenegro, Iceland, and Albania—all EU candidate or potential candidate states—would also participate with the EU and three other non-EU European nations (Norway, Lichtenstein, and Moldova) in imposing targeted restrictions upon certain Russian and Ukrainian individuals. Brussels encouraged participation from other nonmember states, but the invitation for cooperation on this issue was not universally accepted. For example, Serbia an EU candidate state, did not join the EU sanctions restrictions.




Participation in these EU sanctions reveals differences in the way prospective EU members—Serbia and Montenegro in particular—interpret the requirements of candidacy status. Since March, Serbia has been encouraged to join the EU in imposing sanctions on Russia, but Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic has refused. Vucic has since attempted to soften the significance of this step, calling Serbia’s abstention from sanctions “the only difference” from EU foreign policy and intetional law. Yet in the neighboring capital of Podgorica, Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic declared that foreign policy cooperation was a necessary step along Montenegro’s path to EU accession.

While both Balkan states have historic ties to Russia, both have increasingly angled toward the West in recent years. Montenegro's April decision to comply with EU sanctions—and Serbia's decision not to—highlights the tensions between the eastward pull of the past and the westward attraction of NATO and EU membership. Serbia’s foreign minister Ivan Mrkic tried to downplay these tensions, saying that Serbia will both prioritize and respect the conditions of EU accession but “this is not a choice between East and West, nor will Serbia choose according to that pattern.”

Montenegro’s decision to cooperate with EU foreign policy has reverberated domestically. The government's position has stirred up opposition at home. Mirodrag Vukovic, a member of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists and chairman of the International Relations committee in Montenegro's assembly, defended “the process of European integration" in early June, asking "what should one expect from a state, which aspires to become a full member of the European Union, but that it would share EU views and values and try to harmonize its policy with the policy of the EU?" The minister continued, saying that neither Montenegro's current nor historical relationship with Russia should alter its priorities

Ultimately, the realization of this priority---- "namely, the Euro-Atlantic integration”—is the goal of Montenegro’s cooperation. Non-compliance, according to Montenegrin president Filip Vujanovic “would exclude the possibility of inviting [Montenegro to join NATO at a summit] in Wales” this fall. Unfortunately for President Vujanovic, NATO’s Secretary-General Andres Fogh Rasmussen dashed those hopes last week when he announced no new members would join the Atlantic alliance at September’s summit. Montenegro is, however, invited to reapply in 2015.

Catherine Ashton said in March that “the European Union takes note of these decisions and welcomes them,” in reference to sanctions compliances by non-EU states.