US Senate backs Montenegro’s membership of NATO

Monument in Podgorica honouring Petar II Petrović-Njegoš (1813-1851), Prince-Bishop of Montenegro, poet and philosopher whose works are widely considered some of the most important in Montenegrin and Serbian literature. [Georgi Gotev]

The US Senate yesterday (28 March) overwhelmingly backed the expansion of NATO to allow Montenegro to join the alliance, hoping to send a message that the United States will push back against Russian efforts to increase its influence in Europe.

The long-delayed vote passed by 97-2 in favour of Montenegro’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. That was well above the two-thirds majority needed in the 100-member Senate to ratify Montenegro’s membership.

There was no immediate confirmation of whether President Donald Trump would formally deposit the instrument of ratification, the last step in the US ratification process.

Montenegro seeks assurance Trump won’t derail its NATO accession

Stuck in a geopolitical tug of war over its NATO bid, Montenegro wants the United States to guarantee that it will ratify its accession protocol. American diplomats told EURACTIV that the process will take time but that US policy should not change.

However, his administration had supported NATO membership for the tiny Balkan nation, one of Europe’s smallest, despite Trump at times criticising the alliance as he campaigned for the US presidency last year.

While campaigning, Trump accused other NATO members of failing to pay their fair share while adopting a conciliatory tone toward Russia. But as president, Trump has pledged his support for the alliance.

Last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote to the leaders of the Senate to say Montenegro’s membership of NATO was “strongly in the interests of the United States”.

Tillerson urges Senate ratification of Montenegro's NATO membership

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has written to the leaders of the US Senate urging the ratification of Montenegro as the newest member of the NATO alliance, saying it is “strongly in the interests of the United States.”

On Tuesday, the only two “no” votes came from Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee, who had delayed the vote for months by refusing to allow a quick vote. Senate leaders held the more time-consuming roll call vote this week after receiving Tillerson’s letter.

Paul had questioned the wisdom of allowing a country with just 650,000 residents and an army of just 2,000 to join the alliance, saying American taxpayers should not be forced to pay if Montenegro were attacked.

Russia opposes NATO’s enlargement in the Western Balkans.

Russia: Commission should play a more positive role in the Western Balkans

Speaking to EURACTIV.com, Russia’s Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, criticised the European Commission’s handling of the crises in Macedonia and Kosovo, and regretted the “hysteria” over alleged Russian interference in Montenegro.

Backers said it was important to support countries like Montenegro to promote Western values and push back against Moscow, which Montenegrin officials said was partly behind an alleged plot to overthrow their government during an election in October 2016.

Moscow dismissed that accusation.

“With a nearly unanimous vote, the Senate has sent a clear message that it stands firmly with Montenegro and against the Kremlin’s bullying,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

All 28 NATO members must ratify Montenegro’s accession in order for the country to join the alliance.

Washington is among the last to do so.

Montenegro’s parliament ‘will vote for NATO by 59%’

Montenegro will finish the ratification procedure of its NATO accession with a vote in parliament in the coming months. Public opinion is evenly divided for and against NATO membership, but it is unlikely that a referendum will be called over the issue.

EU leaders concerned over ‘return of Balkan demons’

EU leaders voiced concern yesterday (9 March) about "external influences" fueling division in the western Balkans, as Britain announced a summit to focus efforts on stabilising a key region vulnerable to Russian meddling.

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