Montenegro is a tiny Balkan country of 600,000 inhabitants on the Adriatic. It is a country emerging from dominance by others - Serbs, Germans, Ottomans. Only 11 years old, Montenegro displays the growing pains of a young economy and a new democracy. It is also, as of June 5, the newest member of NATO.
What I saw here in Montenegro, along with the delegation of fellow Congressmen I led, is breathtaking and dangerous.
Behind its sleepy exterior, a dramatic power play by Russia against the West and against NATO has come to light. When Montenegro threw its lot into a full-fledged alliance with the West - first NATO and later perhaps the European Union, the Russia of Vladimir Putin was offended.
On its election day, October 16 of last year, a deadly plot was thwarted at the last minute. Killers hired with Russian money were set to don the uniforms of Montenegrin special police, deliberately and provocatively shoot and murder protesters, and storm the parliament. It is also claimed that the prime minister was to be assassinated.
Only a change of heart by one of the conspirators exposed the plan just in time. Now, a trial is imminent which will expose the Russian financing behind the planned attack. Two GRU, formerly KGB, officers are being tried in absentia because Russia refuses to extradite them to Montenegro. As a fledgling democracy still establishing the rule of law, Montenegro is doing everything it can to adhere to Western judicial standards for the upcoming trial.
Americans are offended that Russians meddled in our own elections, if nothing else by stealing emails of one candidate and publishing them. But killing innocent bystanders, storming the legislature, and killing the leader of the country in cold blood?
All over Europe, Russia is meddling in elections or much worse. Invasions or insurgencies sponsored by Russia have been inflicted on Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. These "frozen conflicts" have no clear end in sight.
Sophisticated propaganda is being beamed into Western continuously through the RT, or Russia Today, "news channel," through countless social media trolls on the Russian payroll, and through biased print media.
The lies and misinformation Russia puts out are breathtaking in their audacity, their creativity, and their hostility to Western values in general and America in particular. On RT, every news incident is twisted and spun to put America into the worst possible light.
Russia is intent on discrediting and dividing all Western countries and institutions. NATO, which includes a number of Eastern European countries formerly under the sway of the former Soviet Union, is at the top of the list of targets.
That is why defending and enlarging NATO is so valuable. And it is why Russia is so determined to destabilize a tiny country like Montenegro.
All the countries Russia tries to sway by bullying or worse realize its schemes and are determined to resist. Talk to any leader in Eastern Europe. Only a few lackey countries in the world buy into the Russian narrative.
Why doesn't Russia realize it could be tremendously more persuasive and influential as a force for good and not for bad?
The best answer I have heard is that Vladimir Putin deliberately opposes the Western democratic values that such a change of direction would entail. If he allowed the Western values of rule of law, free elections, service to others, journalistic freedom, and regard for the truth to control Russian policy, he would be ejected from power. A Russian people holding to those values would not stand for the Putin values of cronyism, corruption, disinformation, and rule of man.
This is why America must resist Russia, must push hard for Western values, and must unite with both powerful and weak countries, both large and small countries, and both rich and poor countries. It is why the unassuming little country I see today on this visit is going to play an outsized role in exposing Putin's plotting. It is why it is a victory for America and the West that tiny Montenegro just joined NATO.
This is another of a series of articles from Congressman Doug Lamborn's visit to Eastern Europe.