BRUSSELS: Nato foreign ministers welcomed tiny Montenegro into their fold on Wednesday in the organization together’s first development since 2009, challenging Russian warnings that enlargement of the US-led bloc further into the Balkans was a “provocation”.

In a scripted session at Nato’s headquarters in Brussels, Montenegro’s foreign minister Igor Luksic strode into the imposing conference hall to loud applause from his peers as Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg declared: “This is the beginning of a very beautiful alliance.”

Nato representatives say the decision to invite the Adriatic state of 650, people sends a message to Russia that Moscow does not have a veto on Nato’s eastwards extension, regardless of the fact that Georgia’s membership offer has been complicated by its 2008 war with Russia.

After Albania and Croatia joined Nato in 2009, just Serbia, Russia’s nearest partner in the Balkans, is not actively pursuing membership of the alliance.

While Montenegro has now been invited to join Nato, it can take up 18 months for a nation to formally join. Nato diplomats say membership is likely to be cemented at the summit of alliance leaders next July in Warsaw.

Moscow contradicts any Nato augmentation to previous socialist regions of eastern and southeastern Europe, a portion of an east-west battle for impact over previous Soviet satellites that is at the focal point of the emergency in Ukraine.Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last September that any extension of Nato was “an oversight, even an incitement.” In remarks to Russian media then, the portrayed Nato’s purported open entryway arrangement as “reckless”.

Nato outside priests severed formal contact with Russia in April a year ago after Moscow added Ukraine’s Crimea landmass and started the contention in eastern Ukraine that has slaughtered more than 8,000 individuals.

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