Former US presidential candidate John McCain accused fellow Republican senator Rand Paul of working for Russian President Vladimir Putin after Paul blocked a new attempt to discuss the protocol on Montenegro’s accession to Nato on March 15.
Montenegro’s Nato accession is becoming a test case for the new geopolitics following the election of US President Donald Trump. US Democrats have previously claimed that some Republican senators are trying to prevent Montenegro being let into the military alliance, amid suspicions of Russian influence over US policymaking. Moscow is staunchly against the accession of Montenegro, a former Balkan ally, becoming a Nato member.
Although Montenegro was invited to join Nato in December 2015, the country’s full accession has been delayed by the US Senate, which still has to vote on a resolution on Montenegro’s Nato accession.
John McCain reportedly asked the Senate to finally schedule a debate on the protocol, but was blocked by his colleague. It is not clear when the Senate will put this issue in its agenda. “The senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin,” McCain accused in strongly worded statement to the Senate.
“Halting Montenegro’s membership would be a significant turn in American foreign policy and would show a conciliation with the rising influence of Russia on the Balkans, which would affect negatively our common safety interests in the region.”
He added that blocking Montenegro’s accession to Nato now when 25 of the 28 members of the alliance have already ratified the protocol sends the wrong signal to Moscow and the world.
Paul later issued a statement saying he opposed Montenegro’s entry to Nato because the US’ military commitments are already stretched, and it is committed to defending the alliance’s existing 28 members. “Is it unwise to expand the monetary and military obligations of the United States given the burden of our $20 trillion debt,” Paul said in the statement, according to newswire reports.
In May 2016, Nato foreign ministers signed the protocol on the country’s accession to the alliance. Since then, Montenegro has been able to participate in meetings as an observer, but it will only become a full member after the protocol is ratified by the parliaments of all member states. The country hopes to become a full member of Nato by spring this year.
Previously, there were rumours that ratification of the protocol was being delayed within the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. However, the resolution was approved unanimously by the committee for the second time in December, before being tabled to the Senate.
In February, Politico reported the then national security adviser Michael Flynn was prepared to recommend that US President Donald Trump support a resolution on Montenegro’s membership in Nato. Flynn has since resigned after he was found to have misled US officials about his communications with Russian diplomats.
In the months before Nato extended its invitation to Montenegro, the country’s then prime minister Milo Djukanovic claimed that Russia was behind a series of opposition demonstrations, that he said were intended to create an image of instability.
There is also evidence that Russian officials were involved in a coup attempt in Montenegro uncovered on the eve of the October 16 general election. Djukanovic claimed in a recent interview with AP that the coup attempt was part of Russia’s attempt to destroy the EU.