PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Montenegrin lawmakers were set Monday to swear in a pro-NATO government amid political tensions following an alleged foiled election-day coup orchestrated by Russian nationalists to derail the Balkan country's bid to join the alliance.
Prime Minister-designate Dusko Markovic pledged that his Cabinet would wrap up in 2017 the years-long process of Montenegro's integration into NATO.
"We expect to finish the process before spring (2017)," the 58-year-old former intelligence chief told lawmakers. "Full membership (in NATO) will provide the level of security we haven't had in the past."
Opposition parties boycotted the session. They have complained that the Oct. 16 elections were marred with irregularities.
The vote was marked by the arrest of 20 people who allegedly planned to assassinate the prime minister and take over power in order to block Montenegro's NATO effort.
Authorities have said two Russian nationalists were behind the plot along with some Serbs who fought with pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Moscow has denied involvement in the alleged coup. However, Russian officials have openly opposed Montenegro's upcoming membership in NATO.
Montenegro was formally invited to NATO last year. With Montenegro joining, Russia would lose strategic access to the Adriatic Sea, and Serbia would be its only remaining ally in the region.
NATO officials said they expect Montenegro to become a member next spring after all 28 alliance member states ratify the agreement in their respective parliaments.
PM-designate Markovic said he will then put the membership bid for a vote in the Montenegrin parliament. This is likely to anger the pro-Russian opposition, which insists on a referendum.
Markovic will succeed long-ruling PM Milo Djukanovic, who led his country to independence from Serbia in 2006. Markovic's proposed Cabinet includes ministers from the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, Social Democrats and ethnic minority parties.