NATO's Stoltenberg: Montenegro's accession is strong signal

Montenegro's NATO membership will send a strong signal of commitment to regional security, secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday, amid growing Western concern about Russian influence in the Balkans.

"Your NATO membership will send a clear signal of stability and security in the whole region, which is the basis for prosperity," Stoltenberg told Montenegro Prime Minister Dusko Markovic at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels.

"NATO membership will strengthen Montenegro's sovereignty," he added, apparently a reference to recent turmoil involving pro-Russian groups in Montenegro who oppose joining the alliance.

NATO signed the accession agreement with Montenegro last year, paving the way for the country to become its 29th member at a time of increasing tension between the West and a more assertive Russia.

Moscow condemned the move as another instance of NATO's encroachment in its backyard, helping fan the opposition groups that demanded a referendum on the issue.

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