Continuing expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to the east would lead to retaliatory measures from Russia
NATO military alliance invited tiny Montenegro on Wednesday to join the military alliance in its first expansion since 2009, defying Russian warnings that enlargement of the U.S.-led bloc further into the Balkans is “irresponsible” action that undermines trust.
In a scripted session at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, Montenegro’s Foreign Minister Igor Luksic strode into the imposing conference hall to loud applause from his peers as NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg declared: “This is the beginning of a very beautiful alliance.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the decision to invite Montenegro was not directed at Russia. “NATO is not a threat to anyone … it is a defensive alliance, it is simply meant to provide security,” Kerry told a news conference. “It is not focused on Russia or anyone else.”
NATO diplomats said the decision sends a message to Moscow that it does not have a veto on the alliance’s eastwards expansion, even if Georgia’s membership bid has been complicated by its 2008 war with Russia.
Moscow opposes any NATO extension to former communist areas of eastern and southeastern Europe, part of an east-west struggle for influence over former Soviet satellites that is at the center of the crisis in Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in September that any expansion of NATO was “a mistake, even a provocation”. In comments to Russian media then, he said NATO’s so-called open door policy was “an irresponsible policy that undermines the determination to build a system of equal and shared security in Europe.”