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news 01 Aug 17

US Vice President’s Visit to Bolster Pro-Western Montenegro

The Montenegrin capital is expected to see tight security measures on Tuesday and Wednesday during the first-ever visit by a US Vice President, intended to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to the Balkans.

Dusica Tomovic
BIRN
Podgorica
 
US Vice-President Mike Pence and his wife Karen in Tallinn, Estonia, on July 30. Photo: Beta/AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis.

US Vice President Mike Pence is to visit Podgorica and meet Balkan leaders on Tuesday and Wednesday and is expected to reaffirm Washington’s support for the region after accusing Russia of seeking to “redraw international borders” and “undermine democracies”.

The White House also said that Pence is travelling to Montenegro to “underscore the importance of good governance, political reforms and rule of law”.

Pence is the first US Vice President to visit Montenegro in over 100 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which began in 1905 when Washington recognised the independence of the Kingdom of Montenegro.

Ahead of and during his visit, Podgorica will be under intense surveillance and tight security measures, with hundreds of additional police officers deployed to patrol the roads, most of which will be closed at points where Pence’s motorcade passes on Wednesday.

The airspace in the country will also be closed for several hours for the landing of Air Force Two, the Vice President’s official plane, which will be escorted by US military jets.

Pence’s visit is part of an Eastern European tour which has also taken in Estonia and Georgia, and is seen as a show of support for Montenegro as the newest NATO member but also for the entre Balkan region amid claims of growing Russian influence.

According to the Montenegrin authorities, Russian state agencies backed an alleged plot to overthrow the pro-Western government in Podgorica last October, although Moscow has repeatedly denied this. 

In the Estonian capital Tallinn on Sunday, Pence said that the "spectre of aggression" from Russia makes a strong and united NATO more important now than at any time since the Soviet Union's collapse.

“Russia seeks to redraw international borders by force, undermine democracies of sovereign nations and divide the free nations of Europe,” Pence said after meeting the leaders of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. 

In Podgorica, Pence will to attend a meeting of the US Adriatic Charter, a regional initiative set up to help Balkan nations to join NATO. 

The leaders of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Slovenia are also scheduled to attend the meeting.

Reports have suggested that Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic will also come to Podgorica. Belgrade, which declares itself militarily neutral, holds an observer seat on the Adriatic Charter initiative.

Pence’s visit to Eastern Europe and the Balkans came after Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday that he was ordering the US to reduce its diplomatic staff in his country by 755.

The move came in the wake of new sanctions voted through by the US Congress last week which aim to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 presidential election and over its military involvement in Ukraine and Syria. 

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