BELGRADE – Montenegro may join NATO as a fully-fledged member as early as by mid-2017, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said Wednesday.

NATO invited Montenegro to join the military bloc in December 2015, in its first expansion into Eastern Europe in six years. The accession talks are expected to end in the next two-three months followed by ratification of Montenegro membership by NATO countries.

“Judging by experience of other countries this process [the ratification] takes about a year. So, we can really expect that Montenegro will become a fully-fledged NATO member by the middle of 2017,” Djukanovic said in an interview with Dozhd TV channel.

The prime minister reiterated that Montenegro’s drive to join the EU and NATO did not harm Russia’s interests despite Moscow’s strong opposition to Alliance’s eastward expansion.

“We respect the three-hundred-year history of relations with Russia…but we believe that we have the right and are able to determine our future by ourselves,” Djukanovic stressed.