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NATO raised the red-and-gold flag of Montenegro at its headquarters in Brussels Wednesday, in a ceremony to officially welcome the alliance’s 29th member.
The Balkan nation joins NATO at a tense moment, with allies unsettled by U.S. President Donald Trump’s refusal to affirm NATO’s collective defense doctrine.
Russia is also furious over Montenegro joining NATO, given the deep historic, religious and cultural ties between the two nations. The double-headed eagle on Montenegro’s flag, for instance, is part of Russia’s coat of arms. Over Moscow’s objections, that flag now flies along with the U.S. stars and stripes and other banners of the NATO allies.
At Wednesday’s ceremony, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made no mention of Russia. But the acceptance of Montenegro into the alliance was clearly intended partly as an effort to limit Moscow’s sway in the Western Balkans.
Montenegro’s military is tiny, consisting of slightly more than 2,000 personnel. The country’s main strategic advantage is its deep water ports on the Adriatic, which give easy access to the Mediterranean. It is hardly the only small NATO ally: Iceland has no army, and Luxembourg’s forces number fewer than 1,000.
In his remarks Wednesday, Stoltenberg nonetheless stressed that Montenegro was now an equal partner in NATO’s efforts to maintain international stability.
“I commend your commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration,” he said. “You have a seat at our table — with an equal voice. You will be able to shape the decisions we take together, and from now on, you have 28 Allies — 28 friends — who will always come to your aid.”
The president of Montenegro, Filip Vujanović, hailed the occasion as “a great day for Montenegro.”
“With NATO membership our future will be stable, secure and prosperous and we will make decisions about the most important issues within the strongest, the most organized and most efficient alliance in the history of mankind,” Vujanović said.
At a ceremony to open NATO’s new headquarters last month, Trump appeared to shove Montenegro’s prime minister, Duško Marković, out of his way, as he pushed to get to the front of the group of NATO leaders for a photograph.
In a statement Monday, after Montenegro officially completed its NATO accession process, the Russian Foreign Ministry complained of “anti-Russian hysteria” in Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital, and warned of potential retaliation.
“Given the hostile line taken by Montenegro’s authorities, Russia reserves the right to take response measures on the basis of reciprocity,” the Foreign Ministry stated. “As in physics, in politics for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”