milo đukanović.jpg
Photograph: EPA/BORIS PEJOVIC

Montenegro expects to join NATO by the middle of 2017, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said Thursday, as his country and the military alliance signed an accession protocol despite Russian concerns over the move.

"It is our expectation that the allies would finalize ratification as soon as possible, so that, in mid next year, Montenegro would become a fully fledged member of the alliance," Djukanovic told foreign ministers and other representatives from the 28 NATO member states at a meeting in Brussels.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg spoke of an "historic step," coming 10 years after the Western Balkan country achieved independence.

"Membership will give Montenegro the ability to help shape NATO policy. It will bring more stability and security to the region, therefore promoting prosperity," Stoltenberg said.

"It is important that NATO is an alliance that is open to new members if they want to live up to the obligations and the values that NATO stands for," Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen added. "We think it's great to enlarge the family."

But Russia is expected to retaliate against the move, with high-ranking lawmaker Viktor Ozerov on Thursday saying there will be an "appropriate response."

Montenegro - a historical ally - does not pose a military danger, but NATO's eastward expansion threatens the national security of Russia, the head of its upper house of parliament's defence and security committee said.

Further details about Moscow's planned response were not immediately available, but Deputy Defence Minister Nikolay Pankov told the Interfax news agency that he did not expect a Cold War-style arms race or expansion of Russia's armed forces.

Relations between NATO and Russia are already strained because of the Russian annexation of Crimea and Moscow's support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Sergei Zheleznyak, the vice speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, accused the Western military alliance of acting against the will of Montenegro's citizens.

NATO is "closing its eyes to the obvious fact that the majority of Montenegrins do not want to join this military bloc," Zheleznyak said in comments carried by the state news agency TASS.

Montenegro's Djukanovic, however, said polls in his country show that there is more support for NATO membership than opposition.

When asked whether he thinks that a referendum should be conducted on the accession, the prime minister said that question would be up to the parliament that takes power after elections in October.

"The integration processes of our country are unstoppable and there is no alternative," Djukanovic added. "It's a future that has started and a future that we shall pursue."

He pledged to continue implementing reforms.

For his part, Stoltenberg said he would like to see Montenegro make more progress on enforcing the rule of law, fighting corruption and modernizing defence institutions.

It would be the third nation from the Western Balkans to join the military alliance, after Albania and Croatia.

Montenegro will, as of Thursday, participate in the alliance's meetings as an observer, until all NATO nations ratify the accession protocol. It would then become the 29th member of the alliance.

The country is also working on joining the European Union, but that process is expected to take several more years.

Djukanovic said Montenegro has in 10 years gone from being "one of the most underdeveloped countries" in the former Yugoslavia to being "at the doorstep to NATO as one of the most developed countries in the region."

Related stories

Djukanovic: Montenegro to join NATO by mid-2017

Moscow concerned about Montenegro's NATO membership bid

NATO chief says Montenegro to join alliance very soon

Pusic congratulates Montenegro on NATO membership invitation

Latest news

EU anti-fraud office eyeing claims against Merkel challenger Schulz

Martin Schulz, the main contender against German Chancellor Angela Merkel in upcoming elections, could face a probe for advocating questionable bonuses and promotions while European Parliament president, the EU's anti-fraud office said Thursday.

EFA calls on Croatian state leadership to protect Croatian cinema

The European Film Academy, along with the 600 Croatian professionals who signed the manifesto of "We’ve Had Enough", expressed its belief in the importance of the independence of Croatian film, and in preserving the autonomy of the existing Croatian audio visual model and the continuity of current practices.

PSA chief: We want to keep Opel German

The head of French carmaker PSA Group, which last week revealed that it was in talks to buy Opel from General Motors, said that Opel should remain German if the deal goes through.

Bayern round the clock - German champions launch own TV channel

Bayern Munich fans will be able to follow goings on at the Bundesliga record champions in a new way from next week when the club launches its own television channel.

'Weather bomb' hits transport, cuts power to 56,000 homes in Ireland

Storm Doris brought winds of up to 120 kilometres per hour to large areas of Ireland and Britain on Thursday, disrupting transport links and causing power cuts to tens of thousands of homes.

Croatia's registered unemployment rate rises to 15.4% in January

The registered unemployment rate in Croatia rose from 14.8% in December 2016 to 15.4% in January 2017, increasing for the fourth month in a row, the National Bureau of Statistics (DZS) said Thursday.

Norway's telecom group Telenor to leave Indian market

Norwegian telecommunications group Telenor said Thursday it was leaving the Indian telecom market and transferring its businesses there to Bharti Airtel.

Iraq claims advance in retaking Mosul airport from Islamic State

Iraqi forces wrested back half of Mosul's airport from Islamic State Thursday, shortly after entering the facility during their ongoing campaign to drive the extremist militia from its last key stronghold in the country.

Rights group: Video shows Cambodian police beating election candidate

A video posted on YouTube shows eight Cambodian paramilitary police beating a man identified as an opposition candidate at a Phnom Penh shopping mall, a rights group said Thursday. 

Malaysia asks Interpol to issue alert for suspects in N Korean death

Malaysia on Thursday requested that Interpol issue an alert for four North Koreans suspected of involvement in last week's killing of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

British suspect arrested in Deutsche Telekom hacking

A 29-year-old British citizen suspected of involvement in a cyberattack that left nearly 1 million Deutsche Telekom customers without services last year has been arrested, German federal police said on Thursday.

Eight killed as bomb targets restaurant in Pakistan’s Lahore

A bomb ripped through a high-end restaurant in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Thursday, killing eight people, officials said, marking another attack amid a surge in violence by Islamist militants that has ended months of fragile calm.