‘Let’s Leave Trump Alone’: Montenegro Shrugs Off World War III Comments

(Bloomberg) -- Montenegro, branded by U.S. President Donald Trump as a "very aggressive" NATO state that could drag the planet into World War III, shrugged off the barb, saying it was nothing new.

Trump’s jab against the smallest and newest entrant to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has further fanned international uproar over his trip to Europe, where he clashed with the U.S.’s closest allies before holding a closed-door meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

Montenegro has taken center stage in the struggle for influence between Russia and Western nations in former communist eastern Europe. In 2016, it accused Putin’s government of staging a failed coup aimed at preventing its NATO membership a year later. Despite sending troops from its 2,000-strong military to support the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan, the tiny Balkan state has suffered slights at the hand of Trump, including when he shoved aside Prime Minister Dusko Markovic at a NATO meeting last year.

Then, as now, Markovic played down Trump’s actions.

"Let’s leave Trump alone," Markovic told a lawmaker who asked him during a parliamentary session Wednesday whether the country of 620,000 should worry about the U.S. commitment to its defense. "He’s said it before, and this isn’t the first time."

Article 5

The cabinet in the capital Podgorica issued a statement following a meeting Thursday, saying Montenegro was "proud of its history and traditional and peaceful politics" and that it was "the only state in which war didn’t rage during the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia."

When asked by Fox News Tuesday whether U.S. troops should defend the Adriatic Sea country from attack as required under Article 5 of the NATO treaty, Trump said he’d "asked the same question."

Those and earlier comments in which Trump has doubted the viability of the 29-nation military alliance have rattled smaller members that hail from the former eastern bloc as they battle what they say are increasingly antagonistic actions from Russia. The Kremlin denies the allegations and says NATO and the European Union are trying to encircle Russia by expanding into its Cold War stomping grounds.

‘Mistakes, Consequences’

But tension remains after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, whose government says Moscow continues to send cash, weapons and troops to fuel a separatist conflict that’s killed more than 10,000 people.

Russia has also vociferously objected to NATO’s invitation this month to Macedonia to start entry talks, with its envoy to the EU warning against making "mistakes that have consequences." Officials in the Balkan state have monitored efforts by Russia to provoke unrest as part of a region-wide effort to stop the expansion, according to a report from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

To the north, Poland, and former Soviet republics Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are boosting defense spending and have received NATO troops to deter any potential Russian aggression. Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics tried to lay out his country’s motives for membership.

"For the record: Latvia joined NATO not because we are aggressive but because we feared aggression based on our own historic experience and we share common Western values like democracy, rule of law and human rights, no intent to start World War III," he said on Twitter.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.