Montenegro defies Russian calls against NATO membership

Montenegro's leader has called Russian initiatives on the military neutrality of the Balkans "irrational" and invited the Kremlin to respect the tiny country's right to decide on its NATO membership.

Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said Friday "we respect the history of our relations, but you should respect our right to decide on our future."

Montenegro, which has historic Slavic and religious ties to Russia, has been invited by NATO to join the Western military alliance.

Djukanovic says "our assessment is that the integration into the EU and NATO are good for us."

Russian President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party this week called on several Balkan states to refrain from joining NATO, or the EU, saying the southwestern European region should remain neutral.

Montenegro's pro-Russian opposition has staged protests against NATO.