US-Russia Conflict Is Brewing Over This State's NATO Membership

Joint press point with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of Montenegro, Dusko Markovic

Trump may not be happy with a lot going on in NATO but it is pretty obvious that the consensus of his cabinet is that NATO is still valuable.

White House national security adviser Michael Flynn will recommend that President Donald Trump support allowing the small Balkan nation of Montenegro to join NATO, POLITICO has learned — despite strong opposition from Russia.

The move will be a major test of the new administration’s policy toward Moscow, which considers any further eastward expansion of the Western military alliance a provocation.

Other NATO countries and the U.S. Senate widely support granting membership to the nation of 650,000 people, which once was part of the former Yugoslavia. Montenegro’s leaders have accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of fomenting instability inside the country to erode support for joining the alliance — including alleged plots by pro-Russian movements last year to attack the parliament and assassinate the prime minister.

But Flynn, one of Trump’s key advisers, “is expected to recommend Montenegro’s accession into NATO to Trump in the coming days,” a senior administration official said Monday in response to questions.

This is another one of those presents that Obama left for Trump. NATO extended Montenegro an invitation to join NATO in December 2015. The United States is one of only five NATO nations that have not ratified Montenegro’s membership. Obama ignored the issue entirely until after Trump’s election and then sent the ratification request to the Senate. The reason for that was twofold. First, Obama has been toadying to Vladimir Putin for years, first he needed Putin to help him sell out US national security to the Iranians and then he needed Russian help in Syria. Keeping Montenegro out of NATO was his quid pro quo. Once Trump was elected, Obama forwarded the ratification packet to the Senate knowing that Bob Corker would not act on it before Trump’s inauguration.

Montenegro’s membership in NATO is non-controversial within NATO and it is non-controversial in the US Senate. It is controversial just one place. In Russia and with the Russian Fifth Column bankrolled by Moscow in Montenegro.

There are people who are pooh-poohing the move but NATO, for sixty years, has been a stabilizing force in Europe. While Montenegro may not bring a particularly robust military capability to the alliance it does shore up a vulnerable area. Russia has been pushing Montenegro for basing rights for its ships and aircraft. And depriving the Russian navy of a Mediterranean home port has a certain value.