Montenegro and NATO will sign a document that will pave the way for the Western Balkan country to join the military alliance, despite Russian concerns about the move.
Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic will be in Brussels to sign on his country's behalf, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday. The signature will take place during a two-day meeting of the alliance's foreign ministers starting Thursday.
"It is an historic day for the alliance, for Montenegro and for the stability of the Western Balkans," Stoltenberg told journalists in the Belgian capital. "The enlargement of NATO with Montenegro confirms that NATO's door is open."
Montenegro will as of Thursday participate in the alliance's meetings as an observer, until all NATO nations ratify its accession protocol. The country, once part of Yugoslavia, will then become the 29th member of the alliance.
Stoltenberg said there is "strong support" in NATO countries for Montenegro's membership. This comes despite threats from Russia that it would respond to the move, amid concerns in Moscow about NATO's presence moving increasingly closer.
Montenegro would be the third nation from the Western Balkans to join NATO after Albania and Croatia. Russia should have no say on the country's decisions, top NATO officials have said.
"Any sanctions or reactions from Russia will be absolutely unjustified, because it's about respecting the sovereign decision of a sovereign nation, Montenegro, to decide on its own path and that should be respected by everyone," Stoltenberg noted on Wednesday.
Relations between the Western military alliance and Russia are already strained over the Russian annexation of Crimea and Moscow's support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Stoltenberg said the foreign ministers would discuss whether to organize another meeting of NATO ambassadors with their Russian counterpart. The two sides held talks last month for the first time in almost two years, but Stoltenberg said afterwards that there still were "profound" disagreements.
The NATO chief said he supports the holding of another meeting, but could not make any predictions about when it might take place.
Bosnia, Georgia and Macedonia are also seeking to join NATO, while Ukraine has expressed interest. Stoltenberg expressed concern about the situation in Macedonia, which has been plagued by a long-running political crisis between the ruling party and opposition politicians.
"It is important that the minimum condition for normal political, democratic life is in place," he said.
On Georgia, meanwhile, Stoltenberg said he expects its "progress" to be acknowledged at NATO's next summit in July and for the alliance to reiterate its "strong commitment" to provide support to the country.