WASHINGTON — The Senate is working to advance Montenegro's accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and could conclude as soon as this week.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted Tuesday to advance the measure, which would expand NATO eastward in defiance of Russia's fierce opposition. It would mark the the first expansion of NATO's ranks in ex-communist Eastern Europe since Montenegro's neighbors, Albania and Croatia, joined in 2009.

Work was ongoing Wednesday to approve the measure by unanimous consent, meaning 100 Senators agree to its passage without a floor vote. The move comes after the White House  initiated the ratification process in September and accession protocols were signed in May.

On Tuesday night, US Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs, urged the Senate to vote to ratify the resolution of accession before the current session of Congress concludes at year's end.

Calling NATO "the most ambitious and successful alliance in history," Shaheen said: "Montenegro's membership would reaffirm that NATO's door remains open to aspirant nations that share the values of all NATO members and stand ready to contribute to NATO operations."

Stressing the urgency of the move, Shaheen pointed to Russian attempts to thwart Montenegro's efforts to join the defensive alliance and cited a Russian-backed plot in October to overthrow Montenegro's cabinet and assassinate its prime minister. 

"By quickly approving the resolution on accession, the United States Senate can demonstrate that it stands firmly with Montenegro, and that we will not allow Putin to bully European states with impunity," Shaheen said.

Email:    jgould@defensenews.com  

Twitter:    @reporterjoe  

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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