Montenegro lawmakers convene for NATO membership vote

Montenegro lawmakers convene for NATO membership vote

CETINJE, Montenegro — Montenegrin lawmakers convened Friday to ratify the Balkan country’s membership in NATO and make a historic turn toward the West amid protests by Russia and pro-Russia opposition.

The Montenegrin parliament met in the historic capital of Cetinje to ratify the accession treaty with the Western military alliance. Opposition lawmakers boycotted the session, and several hundred pro-Russia opposition supporters gathered outside the hall before the session.

Demonstrators chanted “Treason!” and “Thieves!” and burned a NATO flag during the protest. A banner read: “NATO murderers, your hands are bloody!”

“I feel humiliated because others are making a decision in my name,” former Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic said. “What is happening now is the triumph by force and lies!”

Montenegro’s pro-NATO government has urged lawmakers to approve the entry protocol. Officials said that joining NATO will bring stability and economic benefits after centuries of turmoil.

The government said: “In the current geopolitical environment, Montenegro must rationally look at all options and make a decision that will best protect its national, security and economic interests.”

Russia has been angered by NATO expansion in Montenegro, Moscow’s traditional zone of interest. Montenegro has accused Russia of being behind a foiled election-day coup in October allegedly designed to throw the country off its path toward NATO. Russia has denied this.

Montenegro has a small military of around 2,000 troops, but it is strategically positioned to give NATO full control over the Adriatic Sea. The other Adriatic nations — Albania, Croatia and Italy — already are in the alliance.

The country of 620,000 has been historically divided between pursuing pro-Western policies and sticking to an alliance with Orthodox Christian allies Serbia and Russia. Montenegro gained independence from Serbia in 2006.

Predrag Milic, The Associated Press