BRUSSELS - NATO has invited Macedonia to start membership talks, a step toward adding its 30th member despite Russia’s objection and a show of unity at a time of growing discord between the Trump administration and Europe.
The invitation Wednesday came at a NATO summit at which U.S. President Donald Trump demanded more military spending by some allegedly deadbeat allies, as countries like Canada and Britain committed more to new manpower than new money.
Macedonia was given a pathway to membership on condition that it finally iron out its years-long standoff over its name with Greece, which took a big step forward with their deal last month that could rename the country North Macedonia.
Macedonian voters and the Greek parliament still must sign off on that deal, which could also dissipate any Greek objections to the Skopje government’s ambition to join the European Union.
“Once all national procedures have been completed to finalize the name agreement, the country will join NATO as our 30th member,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. “It cannot become a member if it doesn’t change its name. That’s in a way the simple choice, and that’s up to the people.”
Russia, NATO’s most prominent rival, has bemoaned the possible addition of another alliance member - reviving Cold War-style tensions. Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev hailed the invitation but noted objections from Moscow.
“Very obviously, they are against our integration in NATO,” he said during a panel talk on the sidelines of the summit. Zaev alleged “some activities” by Russia had attempted to thwart the deal, but he did not elaborate.
The overture toward expansion came amid a backdrop of strain in NATO, notably continued pressure by Trump on allies to shoulder a bigger share of military spending - including a swipe at Germany for being “captive” to Russia.