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North Macedonia Ratifies NATO Protocol, Raises Alliance Flag

North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski talks to lawmakers in Skopje before ratifying the NATO accession agreement on February 11.

The NATO flag has been raised in front of the parliament building in Skopje as North Macedonia celebrated its impending accession to the Western military alliance.

NATO representatives, diplomats, and officials from some neighboring countries joined in the small Balkan nation's celebration of the moment on February 11.

The ceremony took place after North Macedonia’s parliament earlier in the day unanimously ratified the NATO accession protocol -- which will come into effect after the 29th and final member of the alliance -- Spain -- does the same.

"By joining this alliance, we are not simply joining an international organization," North Macedonia’s president, Stevo Pendarovski, told lawmakers before the vote. "Membership of the world's most powerful military-political alliance is a privilege, but also a huge responsibility."

North Macedonia was granted a protocol on accession to NATO membership in February last year, after a 2018 agreement with Greece that changed the former Yugoslav republic's name from Macedonia, resolving a decades-long dispute between Skopje and Athens.

The United States and European allies have backed Skopje's efforts to join the alliance as a means to slow efforts by Russia and China to increase their influence in the Balkans.

Pendarovski said on February 4 that he expected Spain to ratify the protocol next month.

"If everything goes according to plan concerning the political process, around March 10 that process should finish. There will remain some technical details that our parliament in Skopje will have to deal with," Pendarovski told reporters during a visit to NATO member Poland.

Based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, AP, Reuters, and dpa