Montenegro to Vote on NATO Membership

Montenegro to Vote on NATO Membership

CETINJE, Montenegro (AP) -- Montenegrin lawmakers are set to ratify the Balkan country's membership in NATO on Friday and make a historic turn toward the West despite protests from traditional ally Russia and pro-Russian opposition.

The Montenegrin parliament will convene in the historic capital of Cetinje to ratify the accession treaty with the Western military alliance. Police have deployed in the town as opposition parties announced they will boycott the session and hold a demonstration instead.

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 some 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, are already 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.