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.
Trump, who criticized NATO as outdated during the campaign, has praised Putin and vowed to improve relations between Washington and Moscow. Now Montenegro will have an outsize role in revealing how much he is willing to back up the Cold War-era alliance at the expense of his budding relationship with the Russian leader.
“What Russia has done against Montenegro is a unique case,” said Jorge Benitez, a senior fellow and NATO expert at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank that supports the expansion. “No NATO candidate country has ever faced such a dire attack or threat in the process of finishing its membership into the alliance.”
Trump could block the bid under NATO’s rules, which require unanimous support from all members. Some supporters of Montenegro’s application fear he will oppose extending NATO’s defense guarantee to yet another small European country.
“We’ve defended other nations’ borders, while refusing to defend our own,” Trump said in his inauguration speech. “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first….”
Twenty-three of 28 governments in the alliance have voted in favor of its bid and only the United States, Canada, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands have yet to weigh in. If all NATO members approve Montenegro’s membership it will be up to Montenegro’s own parliament to ratify the accord….
In October, Montenegro’s special prosecutor announced that 20 members of a “Russian nationalist” terrorist cell had been arrested on charges of trying to destabilize the country. Exactly what happened is not yet clear, but the apprehended suspects told Montenegrin authorities about an alleged plot to seize the country’s parliament building and assassinate Prime Minister Milo Đukanović….
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted in favor of the treaty with Montenegro on Jan. 11. The panel’s chairman, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), predicts at least 98 senators will vote in favor….
Because adding a nation to NATO is a treaty measure, support from two-thirds of senators is required to secure passage. But the Constitution delegates the power to negotiate treaties to the president and Trump could refuse to relay the ratification to NATO, indefinitely stalling the process.