PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has been barred from entering Montenegro, which is facing strong pressure from the Kremlin for its plans to join NATO, the country's foreign ministry said Thursday.
Ministry spokeswoman Gordana Jovanovic told the AP that that Rogozin is among 50 Russian politicians and businesspeople who are not allowed to enter the small Balkan country.
Montenegro, a traditional Russian ally that now wants to join the EU and NATO, has adopted Western sanctions against Moscow for its role in the Ukrainian crisis.
Rogozin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, recently said Montenegro would "regret" joining the Western military alliance which in December issued a formal membership invitation.
"I don't mean the people (will regret it), but the small group of people who are making the decisions," Rogozin said.
Russian officials see Montenegro joining NATO as another Western provocation and an attempt by the alliance to get closer to the Russian borders. They have been calling for a referendum on joining NATO, counting on deep divisions in the nation of some 600,000 people between pro-Russian and pro-Western supporters.
Rogozin has been invited to Montenegro by pro-Moscow parties that have been staging anti-government and anti-NATO demonstrations that have sometimes turned violent.
Milan Knezevic, an opposition leader, said Rogozin should ignore the ban.
"We guarantee his safety," he told the Pobjeda daily. "Instead of confronting agents of the Islamic State in Montenegro, the regime is threatening with arresting deputy prime minister of Russia, which is the only one uncompromisingly fighting this global terrorist creation."