Despite a last-minute objection by Senator Rand Paul, who was in turn labeled an agent of Vladimir Putin by Senator John McCain, the Senate has approved Montenegro’s accession to NATO to “send a message” to Russia.
“With Russia’s resurgence and quest for renewed great power status, NATO has given notice that it will stand up for Western democracies too — and has continued to do so,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the Senate approved Montenegro’s accession to NATO.
The vote was 97-2 in favor of accession, with only Paul and Utah Senator Mike Lee voting no.
Paul previously took to the floor to object to an effort by McCain to approve Montenegro’s accession without a roll call vote, questioning the wisdom of the United States continuing to shoulder the costs of defending countries with poorly-funded militaries.
In response, McCain took to the Senate floor and accused Paul of “working for Vladimir Putin.”
“It is a nation in this contest that we are now engaged in with Vladimir Putin, who has committed to extending the reach and influence of the Russian government… to the point where he attempted a coup to overthrow the freely elected government of Montenegro,” McCain said.
“If we turn down Montenegro, it will not remain the democracy that it is today.”
McCain was citing unsubstantiated comments from a senior British government official who claimed the Russian government was engineering a coup in Montenegro during the country’s parliamentary elections in October 2016.
The plan allegedly involved 500 people entering Montenegro, promoting violence to distract law enforcement, and ultimately assassinating Prime Minister Milo Đukanović.
While there was no evidence directly linking Russia to the alleged coup attempt, the mere rumors of a Russian-engineered coup bolstered those pushing for Montenegro’s acceptance into NATO.
“We have seen the failed coup attempt last fall and the fact that Russian citizens were involved in that attempt. But for me, this is not an argument against Montenegro joining NATO. For me, this is an argument in favor,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Russia has consistently expressed anger over NATO’s continued eastward expansion, warning it increases the risk of conflict.
“NATO expansion has led to tensions unseen in Europe for the last 30 years,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the Munich Security Conference, adding that “the Cold War did not end, judging by some remarks made during the conference.”