WASHINGTON -- True, it is only a small country, far away for most Americans, tucked into a beautiful but scarcely known corner of the world. It is, in fact, extraordinarily beautiful and, as I remember from an impressionable girlhood trip there, filled with remarkably handsome men!
Yet, you may well ask me -- trying to pretend I never made that embarrassing comment about the men -- why should mountainous Montenegro, with a mere 630,000 people and lying on the Adriatic coast like a sentinel of the East suspiciously observing the omnipresent West, be of any importance to us?
Well, listen in for just a moment.
While the Trump administration-in-the-making has gotten itself all tied up in knots over an attraction to the thuggish Russian President Vladimir Putin and his hammer-and-hammer methodology, little Montenegro has become a harbinger of the dangers Putin poses. Moscow has not hidden its totalitarian ways in Montenegro, but has, according to all indicators, actually tried to overthrow the Montenegrin government and install its own quisling!
In a story virtually uncovered by the Western press, Montenegrin prosecutors have formally accused Russian nationalists of attempting a coup in the country last October and trying to kill then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. Among the co-conspirators were Serbs who fought on the side of the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, at least two members of the Russian military intelligence and "nationalists in Russia." The coup was to be a "terrorist attack," and Moscow was surely involved.
It was not difficult to figure out the purposes of the patently old-Soviet-style "criminal organization." Montenegro had been one of the six contingent parts of the former Yugoslavia before it collapsed during the 1992-'95 wars, and it has been one of the most pro-NATO and pro-European Union of the lot. It would, and hopefully will, become a full NATO member in the spring of 2017.
Moreover, as Bloomberg reported, the "move (to NATO) would put control of all ports along the Adriatic coast under the alliance's members and constrain movement of non-allied ships." And so, a pro-Russian Montenegro, with its beautiful -- and militarily incomparable -- Bay of Kotor, could have an enormous effect on naval activity up and down the Adriatic Sea, particularly since Moscow has been active in directly supporting Russian-friendly politicians from Bulgaria to Moldova and in supporting authoritarian presidents and parties from Hungary to Slovakia to Western Europe.
Ah, but you say once again, Montenegro is so small!
Only about 150 miles from the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica, a young Serbian super-nationalist named Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914, assassinated the Hapsburg successor to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Thus, this "small" act, on the part of a "small" man, inspired by a "small" death-obsessed group in Serbia, let loose the dominoes of hatred and ambition that began World War I.
Historians constantly ponder how many huge, destructive orgies of violence and hatred begin thusly, from the small roots of dark plants watered by very large gardeners, like Moscow, like Beijing, like Belgrade, like Khartoum, like Tokyo.
But we already can see clearly that President-elect Donald Trump does not see things this way. Every day we gain more stories of his liking -- dare one say, political "love"? -- for Vladimir Putin. He utterly refuses to hear what all the American intelligence agencies are telling him; will not even consider that Moscow is moving to re-establish a Russian sphere of influence a la the Soviet Union; and deigns not to listen to voices telling him that the Russians will NOT help America in fighting ISIS or radical Islamist terrorism.
Andrey Piontkovsky, long one of Russia's most fertile and fair-minded political analysts, now living in the West, pointed out recently on Radio Liberty that Putin is not and will not "struggle against Islamic terrorism together with the West." In fact, he is "using all available resources and instruments" including Islamic terrorism, "to conduct total hybrid war against the West."
But the president-elect and too many of his advisers refuse to see how they are being used by Putin and Co. They refuse to see what is right before their eyes in Syria, so how can one expect them to see a more-complicated geopolitical Russian dance like that taking place along the Adriatic?
Donald Trump IS going to be president. But that is no reason for the American people to sit back like weary wimps and accept everything he says or does. We still have voices and minds. Let's start out with something simple: Vladimir Putin is a thug.