Montenegro’s parliament has formally agreed to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), signaling a U-turn by a traditional Russia ally.
Parliamentarians in the capital of Cetinje on Friday voted 46-0 in favor of the Balkan nation joining the Western military alliance and becoming the Alliance’s 29th member.
Montenegro’s parliament has 81 members but pro-Russia opposition lawmakers had boycotted the vote.
Opposition leaders said they would not recognize the vote and would call for a referendum on the issue in the small yet strategically positioned country overlooking the Adriatic Sea with a population of around 622,000 people.
Opposition protesters, who gathered in front of the parliament building and torched a NATO flag, chanted anti-NATO slogans and held a banner that read “NATO murderers, your hands are bloody!”
Anti-NATO protesters have urged the government to reject the accession to the Western military bloc.
In December 2015, the small Balkan country was formally invited to join NATO.
In May of 2016, Montenegro signed the NATO Accession Protocol.
Montenegro, which gained independence from Serbia in 2006, had been bombed by NATO in 1999, when Serbia was still part of the former Yugoslavia.
Russia has been angered by NATO’s expansion in Montenegro, saying the move would seriously endanger security and stability in the Balkans and entire Europe.
“We consider the course towards including Montenegro in NATO is deeply erroneous, goes fundamentally against the interests of people in this country and harms stability in the Balkans and in Europe as a whole,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said this month, calling the decision a “deeply mistaken” move that creates divisions in Europe.
Ties between NATO and Russia have been tense.
Moscow believes NATO’s expansion showed that the West was still on the path of confrontation with Russia and maintains that Montenegro’s accession to NATO will diminish stability in the Balkans and the rest of Europe.
Late last year, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Montenegro’s leadership had betrayed the nation.
They “betrayed all commitments and promises, [they] betrayed Russia,” Lavrov said.