Montenegro, Relations with

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Over the course of several centuries, Russia developed what could be termed a "special relationship" with Montenegro (located in the western Balkans) and its largely Serb Orthodox population. Modern Montenegro began to emerge as a result of the collapse of the Serbian empire in the fourteenth century. Occupying land characterized by rugged karst mountains, Montenegrins stubbornly resisted Turkish attempts to subdue their mountain redoubts. Until the secularization of the Montenegrin state in 1852, Montenegro's clans were loosely ruled by vladike (prince-bishops)Orthodox metropolitans who exercised temporal as well as ecclesiastical authority, and who occasionally managed to make the long, difficulty journey to Russia to be formally consecrated in office. After the election of Vladika Danilo I in 1696, succession was restricted to members of his family, the Petrovici, who continued to rule Montenegro until World War I.

Beginning with Peter the Great, Russian rulers bestowed financial awards upon Montenegro and its rulers as an expression of their friendship and as payment for various services rendered in support of Russia's numerous military ventures against the Turks. In the course of the eighteenth century, Russian envoys visited Montenegro, and some Montenegrin youth acquired military training in Russia. The first "modern history" of Montenegro was published by Bishop Vasilije in Russia in 1754. The Russians appealed to the common ethnic and religious heritage of the two peoples and claimed that the war against the Turks was a crusade to rescue the Orthodox Christians of the Balkans from the "Muslim yoke." For their part, Montenegrins responded enthusiastically to these overtures. The nature of the relationship was such that for more than six years during the reign of Vladika Sava (17351781), a monk called Šcepan Mali (Stephen the Small) claiming to be Peter III, the murdered husband of Catherine the Great, successfully established himself as the effective ruler of Montenegro. As one British writer later observed, "Russia was a name to conjure with."

Even so, the extent of St. Petersburg's support for Montenegro was necessarily determined by greater Russian geostrategic interests. Accordingly, Montenegro was awarded nothing in the peace treaties ending RussoTurkish wars in 1711, 1739, 1774, and 1792. The famous bargain struck by Catherine II and Joseph II of Austria in 1781 would have yielded much of the western Balkans to the Habsburg rule, as would have the Austro-Russian Reichstadt Agreement of 1876.

As a result of the 1878 Treaty of Berlin (which replaced the Treaty of San Stefano of the same year), Montenegro secured formal international recognition of its independence as well as territorial aggrandizement. For the next thirty years, Russo-Montenegrin relations were generally cordial, and Nicholas I Petrovic-Njegol (18601918), Montenegro's last prince and only king, took steps to keep them that way. Two of his daughters married Russian grand dukes (Peter and Nikolai Nikolayevitch) and served as spokeswomen for Montenegrin interests in the Russian capital. Nicholas carefully followed political trends in St. Petersburg. His introduction of a constitution in 1905 was a partial echo of the tsar's reluctant decision to grant a duma. For its part, Russia contributed large sums of money to Montenegro royal and state coffers, and engaged in a series of projects designed to promote Montenegrin welfare. Russia subsidized not only the Montenegrin army, but also Montenegrin schools, including a famous girls' school founded by the Empress Marie Alexandrovna. Russians also served as nurses in a largely Russian-financed hospital.

On balance, Russia was Montenegro's most generous great-power sponsor in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. Tsar Alexander III once asserted that Nicholas of Montenegro was his only friend, and the Montenegrins reciprocated this affection by shouting their famous slogan "We and the Russians100 million strong!" Nevertheless, the Montenegrin ruler alienated his Russian benefactors on numerous occasions.

In 1908 Austria-Hungary formally annexed BosniaHercegovina, incurring the wrath of Russia, Serbia, and Montenegro. In 1910 Russia, along with all other European great powers, approved the elevation of Prince Nicholas to the dignity of king. In 1912, Russian diplomats worked behind the scenes to help forge the Balkan League, consisting of Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Montenegro. The First Balkan War ensued, launched by Montenegro in October of the same year. In May 1913 Russia reluctantly joined other European powers in pressuring King Nicholas to withdraw his forces from the Albanian fortress city of Scutari, conquered by Montenegrin troops in April.

In August 1914, Montenegro joined Serbia and Russia in the World War I. One year later, in December 1915, Austro-Hungarian forces occupied Montenegro. Subsequently, official Russian influence was largely limited to Russian representation at the Montenegrin court-in-exile, first in Bordeaux, then in Paris. With the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution, official Russo-Montenegrin relations came to an end, and King Nicholas appealed to the Western Allies in a futile attempt to secure the restoration of the Montenegrin kingdom. At war's end, in December 1918, Montenegro was incorporated into the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (Yugoslavia).

After World War I, however, Russian/Soviet influence continued to manifest itself in Montenegro. In initial elections for a Yugoslav constituent assembly, over a third of those Montenegrins voting supported communist candidates. During World War II, many Montenegrins joined the Communistled Partisan movement headed by Josip Broz Tito. After Tito's split with Stalin in 1948, Montenegro remained a center for limited, underground pro-Cominformist (i.e., pro-Soviet) activity for many years.

See also: balkan wars; congress of berlin; serbia, relations with; yugoslavia, relations with; world war i


Rossos, Andrew. (1981). Russia and the Balkans: InterBalkan Rivalries and Russian Foreign Policy, 19081914. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Treadway, John D. (1983). The Falcon and the Eagle: Montenegro and AustriaHungary, 19081914. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press.

John D. Treadway

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Montenegro, Relations with

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