Montenegro on Monday formally became the 29th NATO member, but Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic told BIRN that it should not be seen as a 'poke in the eye for Russia'.
In an interview with BIRN, Montenegro’s Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic called the country’s NATO membership a historic decision which will strengthen the safety and security of the country and benefit all its citizens – but insisted that it was not a blow against Russia.
“We are too small a country to be considered a threat to Russia in any way. This was not a poke in Moscow's eye," Darmanovic said.
Darmanovic also argued that Montenegro had gained powerful allies.
“NATO operates under the principle all for one, one for all," he said.
On Monday, Montenegro became the 29th member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after the US under Secretary Thomas Shannon accepted Montenegro’s instrument of accession.
Montenegro’s Prime MInister officially handed over the accession document at a ceremony in Washington as the US is the keeper of the NATO founding treaty and holds all ratification documents.
On June 7, the country's flag will fly over NATO headquarters for the first time; the military alliance’s new headquarters building in Brussels has a flagpole reserved for Montenegro.
For NATO, Montenegro’s membership will be a check on Russia and officials both in Brussels and Washington have said it will signal that despite Moscow’s opposition, alliance expansion can continue.
Montenegrin and NATO officials have accused Russia of an alleged plot in Montenegro – a country with a tiny army of only about 2,000 soldiers - to undermine the government and try to block the country from joining the alliance.
Russian officials deny they have interfered in the country, but say they oppose NATO expansion.
According to Darmanovic, Montenegro's membership is a confirmation of the achievements and reforms in society, just 11 years after the country gained independence in the 2006 referendum.
He said that what EU membership brings to a country in terms of economic prosperity, NATO offers in terms of security.
“This does not mean that the [membership] negotiations between Montenegro and the EU will now go faster and better, but it means that we are now under the umbrella of the Western democracies," Darmanovic explained.
Monday passed in Montenegro without any euphoria or celebrations over joining NATO, but also without any significant protest by the numerous opponents of the alliance.
Anti-NATO organisations in the statements called Monday's accession ceremony in Washington the “beginning of capitulation" for the country.
The pro-Russian Democratic Front alliance and the opposition Socialist People's Party, which both sharply opposed NATO membership, filed a constitutional complaint on Monday claiming that the Law on Ratification of the North Atlantic Treaty, which MPs from the ruling coalition voted throgh on April 28, is not in line with the constitution.
“We believe that the adoption of the law was not conducted in accordance with constitution as the highest legal act, and that did not comply with procedures prescribed by it," they said in a joint statement.
Despite joining, Montenegro remains sharply dived over the membership. The large Serbian community is particularly opposed because of NATO's role in bombing Yugoslavia in the late 1990s, to force Belgrade to withdraw its forces from its then province of Kosovo.
Darmanovic claimed that NATO membership could not in any way jeopardise relations with Serbia and the authorities in Belgrade.
He said that relations between the two countries have “never been better".
“In recent months we had intensive communication with the Serbian authorities and we never heard any criticism or opposition. With Montenegro in NATO, Serbia is safer," he insisted.