Western Hunt for “Russian Trail” Stands in the Way of Building Trust

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Ivan Loshkarev, political scientist, expert in international relations

Milivoje Katnić, Montenegro’s Chief Special Prosecutor, has accused Moscow of orchestrating and financing an alleged coup attempt, which, he said, ambitiously aimed to halt the integration of the former Yugoslav republic into NATO. The country’s Prime Minister Milorad Djukanovic is reported to have reiterated his intention to join the Alliance. Thus, Moscow is supposed not only to voice its discontent over NATO’s expansion, but also to signal its readiness to prevent it.

As Montenegro’s prosecution officially sees it, two Russian nationals formed a group of several dozens (or even hundreds) of Serbian and Montenegrin citizens, including mostly Serbian nationalists, to break into the Parliament building on the Election Day while the deputies of the previous convocation were waiting for the outcome of the electoral campaign. Katnić regards the assassination of Milorad Djukanovic as an indispensable part of the conspiracy. He seems to believe that only the murder of the Prime Minister can stop Montenegro’s accession to NATO. The fact that would-be plotters have been declared members of Russia’s intelligence services points to the “Russian trail”.

His 20-year-long career of a judge at Montenegro’s Court of Appeal allowed Katnić to consider the matter from the legal perspective quite thoroughly. One of the alleged coup plotters corroborates the official version. However, the political side of the matter must still be examined.

In sum, Moscow is now accused of an ill-conceived impossible mission despite the scant evidence against it. Predrag Bošković, Montenegro’s Defense Minister, and NATO officials, the British ones in particular, are portraying the indictment as the only feasible explanation.

This “plot” against Djukanovic appears to have clearly revealed that the major problem of Russia-West relations is mutual distrust. As regards Russia, such an attitude is understandable as the West benefited from Russia’s weakness in the 1990s, thus tipping the scales against the country. To put it crudely, Moscow’s lack of trust in the West is a lesson learnt rather than a desire to spoil relations with Washington or Brussels. In this regard, Russia’s steps are logical and consistent. However, does its behavior give any cause for mistrust? The prevailing opinion in European capitals and Washington is that Russia’s unpredictability gives grounds for the lack of credibility. Specifically, the West sees the swift annexation of Crimea and incidents involving Russia’s ships and planes in the Black and Baltic Seas. The cited reasons for unpredictability vary, ranging from Russia’s demise and complexes to the country’s rise and the resulting twists and turns of its policies. Another popular approach makes Russian President Vladimir Putin a scapegoat. What conclusions are drawn? First, Russia needs to be “restrained”, which is why they are strengthening the Alliance’s eastern defenses, creating a new high readiness force, and imposing sanctions on the high-tech sectors of the Russian economy. Second, they need to give Moscow a bad name worldwide, to denounce its apparent and imaginary sins (in Syria, Ukraine, even at home). It is noteworthy that the information deterrence (smear tactics) can hardly be referred to as a well-conceived campaign or a long-term strategy against Russia. It is rather an outburst and a hysteria to some extent, since Moscow is widely believed to lack grounds for such wariness of its Western partners.

         One should consider the Montenegro coup attempt from this particular perspective. They are promulgating the idea of the “Russian trail” even though the official charges do not hold water. Moreover, there are few, if any, facts. The prosecutors speak equivocally, resort to irrelevant and unrealistic assumptions and speculation. Such cases are abundant even without the “conspiracy case” in Montenegro. For example, when an American journalist urged Congressman Adam Schiff to say directly if it was Russia that “hacked” into the inbox of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, a typical answer was given, “Russia intruded into our democratic institutions.” Moreover, there were some statements that Moscow somehow pushes NATO troops stationed in Estonia into brawls and bar fights. High-ranking Estonian officials believe that they dispatch… Russian women in specific bars for it. The evidence is naturally missing.

         Mutual distrust creates tension in the relations between Russia and the West, which causes discord in the global community and the inability to work out concerted steps to address important issues, from fighting terrorism to space exploration. Therefore, such inconsistency and chaotic policies of Russia and the West (for instance, in Syria) are dangerous since they result in collateral damage. We may recall the “cobra effect”. When a bounty was offered for dead cobras in colonial India, many started to breed the snakes to increase the reward. Russia and the West do not seem willing to produce a similar effect, the political chaos worldwide. If it is so, then mutual distrust should be reduced. The first step is to drop the uncorroborated charges. The second step is to agree on a constructive agenda for the dialogue and to find common ground. In this scenario, the prospects for a thaw seem more real.


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