WASHINGTON - Montenegro officially joined NATO Monday, just as the crucial Atlantic alliance appeared imperilled by US President Donald Trump's ambiguous commitment to its mutual defence pledge.
Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic submitted Montenegro's official accession papers in a ceremony at the US State Department, making the small Balkan State the 29th member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The move came in the face of bitter opposition from Moscow, which says NATO's steady expansion into the former communist states of Eastern Europe threatens its own security and cannot go unchallenged.
"It is a historic event for a country and a nation which endured enormous sacrifices in the 19th and 20th centuries in order to defend their right to a free life, the right to decide our own future, recognized by the world under our own name, and with our own national symbols," said Prime Minister Dusko Markovic.
"We are celebrating today the fact that it will never happen again that someone else decides instead of us and our state behind our back, as was the case in the past."
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance will benefit from Montenegro's insight into the Balkans.
"Montenegro's accession is good for Montenegro. It is also good for the stability of the western Balkans. And it's good for international peace and security," he said.