PODGORICA, MONTENEGRO - Next month, the U.S. Senate could vote on ratification of Montenegro's long-standing bid to become 29th member of NATO.
The Alliance officially endorsed the accession bid at its July conference in Warsaw. So far, 19 of 28 NATO allies have officially approved. The endorsement of United States lawmakers could signal others to give the green light for the expansion through their own legislative action.
In an interview with the VOA's Serbian Service, Montenegro's President Filip Vujanovic said he hopes that his country's membership in NATO will be formalized in the first half of 2017. “For us,” he said, “it is important that the U.S. Senate ratifies the Accession Protocol.”
“The United States were always a truly valuable partner supporting Montenegro's reforms and integration into trans-Atlantic institutions. We are thankful for that partnership, which has been significant for overall development of Montenegro. And I absolutely do not doubt that the U.S. Senate will ratify the protocol on Montenegro's accession with an overwhelming majority," Vujanovic told VOA.
Russia opposes NATO expansion and therefore, Montenegro's accession. Moscow is suspected of involvement in a failed October coup plot to install a pro-Russian government and derail NATO expansion in the Western Balkans. Montenegro's acceptance would be the first since Croatia and Albania were admitted in 2009.
Allegedly, suspects arrested in the failed coup attempt on Montenegro's election day had connections with Russian intelligence elements and some of them fought with Russia backed-separatists in Ukraine. They were, the state prosecutor said, planning to attack the parliament and assassinate the pro-Western prime minister.
Experts on European security are somewhat anxious to see if U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's policy towards Russia will adversely impact Montenegro's NATO bid.
But the President of Montenegro believes that the Trump administration's policy toward the Balkans will likely remain focused on stability, economic development, and European and NATO integration of the region. Vujanovic also hopes Montenegro's relations with Russia will improve once the country officially comes under the NATO flag.
“We are in some ways already in NATO," Vujanovic says. "Russia has voiced its well-known objection to NATO expansion. Montenegro needs to be patient and wait until it officially becomes a full member of NATO. After that, I hope our relations with Russia will improve, because Russia cooperates with, and has good relations with many NATO countries."