NATO Dashes to Expand in Balkans After North Macedonia Name Deal

(Bloomberg) -- NATO approved the accession protocol for soon-to-be renamed North Macedonia, weeks after the former Yugoslav republic and Greece settled a decades-long dispute that hindered its membership.

At the center of a tug-of-war for influence between Russia and the West, the Balkan state cleared its biggest hurdle to joining the military alliance last month by agreeing to change its name from "the Republic of Macedonia." Greece, which had blocked its neighbor’s entry because it said the name should apply only to one of its northern provinces that was once home to Alexander the Great, approved a measure last week to drop its objections.

That allowed North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to circulate the accession protocol for the Republic of North Macedonia to the ambassadors of the alliance in Brussels Monday. Greece has agreed to be the first to sign, which will activate the name change and pave the way for a process that will increase the alliance’s numbers to 30.

“The date for the signing of the Accession Protocol will be determined in the coming days," a NATO official said by email. "Following the signing of the Accession Protocol, Skopje can take part in NATO activities as an invitee."

North Macedonia’s participation in NATO is yet another blow to Russia, which has struggled to cling to its former sphere of influence in the Balkans, the site of Europe’s bloodiest conflicts since the end of World War II. Once the protocol is signed, it must be ratified by NATO member parliaments.

The land-locked country of 2 million is following its regional peers Montenegro, Albania and Croatia, which have already proclaimed their pro-western allegiances by joining the military club. It will have to increase its military spending to fulfill a demand led by the U.S., which has urged all members to commit at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product to military outlays.

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