May 20, 2024
Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic of Montenegro called for President Joe Biden to help speed his country’s entry into the European Union, arguing that a larger European bloc could better counter Russia.

Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic of Montenegro called for President Joe Biden to help speed his country’s entry into the European Union, arguing that a larger European bloc could better counter Russia.

Abazovic said greater American support in the country’s fight against organized crime and corruption, including targeted sanctions, would lower the temperature among divided western Balkan states and orient their interests toward the United States and Europe.

Regional leaders foment ethnic divides to shroud their corrupt dealings, he argued, allowing Russia to take advantage.

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During an interview with the Washington Examiner, Abazovic accused Milo Dukanovic, the president of Montenegro, of protecting criminal networks inside the country after his own government made a record number of arrests.

“President Dukanovic is the head of this,” Abazovic said, accusing him of drumming up religious and ethnic divisions that led to the collapse of his government in August.

For Abazovic, integrating his country into the EU after more than a decade as a candidate member is a singular mission and one he believes aligns with U.S. goals.

“We have this common interest,” Abazovic said in an interview. “But we need to work together in protecting democratic values. We need NATO and U.S. support to combat the negative Russian influence in the region, including in Montenegro.”

Fighting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine remains a priority for the Biden administration, even as Russian President Vladimir Putin faces new challenges in the war.

Abazovic was in Washington to meet with State Department officials before traveling to New York for the U.N. General Assembly.

A NATO member since 2017, Montenegro recently suffered a crippling cyberattack that leveled its digital infrastructure and forced the government offline.

Officials have blamed Russia for the attack, with its National Security Agency stating that the country was caught up in a “hybrid war.”

The outgoing prime minister also warned of China’s influence through predatory infrastructure lending. Montenegro is struggling to repay the loan on its first motorway, a $1.2 billion Chinese-built highway that goes nowhere. Abazovic, while serving as deputy prime minister last year, appealed to the EU to come to Montenegro’s aid.

China has the right to seize land inside Montenegro if the country fails to repay China’s state-owned Export-Import Bank on time, according to a copy of the loan contract seen by NPR.

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Abazovic blames his predecessors in government for agreeing to China’s deal. Montenegro had struggled to find a lender amid concerns that the country would not be able to repay the cost.

“China and Russia, they have different strategies, but they are [working to] influence our country,” Abazovic told the Washington Examiner.

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