Montenegro will have to beef up its public support for NATO and strengthen the rule of law before it can become a member, the alliance’s secretary-general said Thursday.
The tiny Balkan state is deeply split between its traditional ties with Russia and those wanting to join the Western military alliance. Polls say public support for NATO has never exceeded 40 percent.
Russian officials have warned Montenegro against joining NATO, saying the Kremlin would regard that as a provocation. Montenegro, which has had strong economic and cultural ties with Russia, has joined Western sanctions against Moscow for its policies in Ukraine.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Podgorica that Montenegro’s membership bid is in “the crucial phase” and that it will be discussed at NATO’s ministerial meeting scheduled for December.
“We count on Montenegro to continue to strengthen the rule of law and we encourage you to further build public support for membership,” Stoltenberg said after meeting Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic whose long-standing government has often been accused of corruption and mismanagement.
A Russian fighter jet, flying at high speed, came within 10 feet of a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance aircraft in international airspace over the Black Sea late last month, several U.S. officials told CNN Thursday.
The Russian jet flew alongside the U.S. plane at the same altitude, broke off, and then shadowed the plane before leaving the area in the May 30 incident, the officials said. The U.S. aircraft took no evasive measures, and no other details were immediately available. Military officials could not say whether a diplomatic protest had been filed.
The close call comes weeks after another incident between the U.S. and Russia over the skies of Europe, when a U.S. RC-135U flying a routine route in international airspace was intercepted by a Russian SU-27 Flanker in what authorities called an “unsafe and unprofessional manner.”
And earlier this month, the U.S. Navy took the unusual step of releasing video of Russian Su-24 aircraft flying past the right side of the guided missile destroyer USS Ross in the Black Sea.
During a scene that would not be out of place in a Cold War blockbuster, Russian jets flew over a large NATO maritime exercise consisting of dozens of ships and aircraft that were operating in international waters in Baltic Sea on Monday evening. A sailor from USS San Antonio, an amphibious assault ship, was able to capture the moment, showing two unidentified jets flying at low altitude and high speed over the ships. The footage was published on Youtube by the U.S. Navy.
“Sailors and Marines enjoy an air show courtesy of the Russian air force during #BALTOPS2015,” read the posting.
Along with the ships, around 5,600 ground troops are taking part in the joint exercise, which began Tuesday and will end on June 19.
“The goal of these at-sea scenarios is to sustain partnerships, knowledge and skill sets across a broad range of mission areas to strengthen the capabilities of both individual services and our international force,” said the official U.S. BALTOPS website.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has suspended all the Tu-95 Bear bomber flights after a strategic bomber suffered an incident in Russia’s Far East.
“The Tu-95 ran over the runway during acceleration. There was no ammunition onboard. According to preliminary information, engine fire was the cause behind the accident,” Russia’s MoD said according to a report posted by Interfax news agency.
Five crew members were aboard the Bear bomber that skidded off the runway and caught fire at Ukrainka airfield: one crew member was killed and another seriously injured following the incident.
As a consequence, the Russian MoD has ground the Tu-95 fleet pending investigation: this was the second incident involving a Bear bomber in two years. In 2013, a Bear was damaged after fire started behind the cockpit while the aircraft was taxing down the runway preparing for departure.
The Tu-95 is a +60-year old Russian four-engine turboprop-powered strategic bomber and missile platform. The aircraft is often intercepted by U.S. and NATO planes during routine long-range missions across the world.
In an interview with the Italian website Corriere della Sera, Russian president Vladimir Putin made revealing statements regarding his stance on NATO.
In the West, Putin’s Russia is largely seen as acting downright aggressively towards Ukraine and Crimea, causing many eastern European countries to bolster their defense programs and act cautiously in regards to Russia.
Putin made it clear in this interview that he thought it was NATO and the US that the world ought to fear.
“US military spending is higher than that of all countries in the world taken together,” Putin told the Italian news website. “The aggregate military spending of NATO countries is 10 times, note – 10 times higher than that of the Russian Federation.”
He stressed that Russia has virtually no military bases abroad, and that they’ve been happy to disarm and disband his foreign holdings while the US has maintained theirs: “We have dismantled our bases in various regions of the world, including Cuba, Vietnam, and so on. This means that our policy in this respect is not global, offensive or aggressive.”
Putin contests that Russia’s increasingly provocative behavior is defensive, saying: “Everything we do is just a response to the threats emerging against us.”
It seems that NATO’s expansion is what really irks Putin: “We are not expanding anywhere; it is NATO infrastructure, including military infrastructure, that is moving towards our borders.”