BELGRADE (Reuters) - Montenegro’s defense minister said on Friday that its long-time ally Russia should not interfere in its plans to join NATO.
The former Yugoslav republic of 600,000 people was invited to join NATO last December, a move the Kremlin said risked fuelling geopolitical tensions in Europe.
Each country should decide its own business, Milica Pejanovic Djurisic told Reuters in a telephone interview from Podgorica for the Reuters Eastern Europe Investment Summit.
“As far as Montenegro is concerned, we have our own objectives and goals, I believe, and NATO has its own on its policy of enlargement, and it is not for any other country to intervene in the process,” she said when asked about the Russian comments.
She said her government maintained there was no need to hold a referendum on NATO membership, as Moscow has demanded, as joining the alliance would not harm Montenegro’s sovereignty.
Montenegro’s membership of NATO would represent the alliance’s first expansion since 2009, when Albania and Croatia joined.
Pejanovic Djurisic said she expected Montenegro to become a full member of NATO in the coming months.
The country’s stunning Adriatic coastline has seen an influx of Russian money, homebuyers and tourists since the country split from its union with Serbia in 2006.
But relations with Moscow have been uneasy, given the Montenegrin government’s pursuit of closer integration with the West since 1995, after the wars over the break-up of Yugoslavia.
Ties deteriorated further when Montenegro joined EU sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“There is a wrong perception that the economy of Montenegro is dependent on Russia. Maybe it looked like that some 10 years ago. In the meantime there are no big investors from Russia, not even in tourism,” Pejanovic Djurisic said.
She said she did not fear Russian moves against Montenegro as had been seen in the Baltic states.
“We are not a neighboring country, and I cannot compare these two cases,” Pejanovic Djurisic said.
Montenegrins themselves remain divided over NATO membership, many still angry over the alliance’s 1999 bombing of Serbia to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians in Serbia’s then southern province of Kosovo.
NATO also bombed Montenegro, then part of a rump Yugoslavia with Serbia, arguing its targets were part of the Serbian war machine.
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Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Giles Elgood