Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Vesna Pusic on Wednesday congratulated Montenegro on receiving an invitation to join NATO.
"I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Montenegro's citizens and leadership on this success and to all of us on contributing to security. I would like to emphasise that this (invitation) is not directed against anyone, that it is for the sake of stabilising Southeast Europe whose stability has an impact on global stability," Pusic said after NATO foreign ministers unanimously decided at their meeting in Brussels to invite Montenegro to join the alliance.
"NATO foreign ministers have just taken the historic decision to start accession talks for Montenegro to become the 29th member," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.
"We congratulate Montenegro. This is the beginning of a very beautiful alliance," he added.
Pusic said that Croatia had cooperated a lot with Montenegro, in various areas, on its path to NATO membership.
Pusic said that she could not remember that "there has ever been such a disproportion between a country's size and its contribution to regional, European and global security."
"Montenegro is a small country in a very important geostrategic position, important not only for the security of Southeast Europe but for the security of the Adriatic-Ionian basin as well," said Pusic.
Membership of Euro-Atlantic associations in this part of Europe is not only a matter of security but a matter of building state institutions, said Pusic.
Stoltenberg said that the decision to invite Montenegro to join NATO was an important step in the Euro-Atlantic integration of the entire Balkans and "makes clear NATO keeps its door open (and bolsters) ... our vision of a Europe whole and at peace."
After the decision on the invitation was made, Montenegro's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Igor Luksic and Defence Minister Milica Pejanovic-Djurisic were invited to join the meeting.
"This is a big day for my country and I believe it has earned it. It is an honour and a privilege to receive an invitation to join NATO," said Luksic.
Since 2009 Montenegro has been a member of the NATO Membership Action Plan, a programme designed for candidate-countries to prepare for membership.
Stoltenberg underlined that the invitation was not the end of the road and that Montenegro should continue with reforms.
It is important that Montenegro continues on the reform path, with defence adjustment, internal reforms, notably regarding the rule of law, and that it continues working to enhance public support for NATO membership, Stoltenberg said.
Accession talks, which are usually very short and last only a few weeks, are expected to begin at the start of 2016. After they are completed, a protocol on accession is signed and it has to be ratified by all 28 member-countries, after which Montenegro can become the 29th member of the alliance.
The decision to invite Montenegro is unusual because it was not made at a NATO summit but at the ministerial level. This was decided last year at a summit in Wales, when it was said that Montenegro would be invited by the end of 2015 if it carried out the required reforms.
Montenegro's membership of NATO is not regarded benevolently by Russia. Moscow insists that the decision has "the real potential to bring about confrontation."
Pusic believes that the invitation to Montenegro to join NATO will not negatively affect NATO's relations with Russia.
"Naturally Russia is sceptical of Montenegro's membership in NATO but for Montenegro and this whole region this has a different meaning than it might have in some other parts of the world exactly because it contributes to the stabilisation of state institutions, which is definitely important for the security of the entire region. NATO members and Russia now have a duty to define a new platform, including on the security front regarding the Middle East, the war in Syria and the joint coordinated fight against ISIL. If that is successful, it will contribute to improving relations between Russia and NATO," said Pusic.