Russia stepped up its criticism of Greece over the expulsion of two of its diplomats, accusing the Greek government Wednesday of participating in "dirty provocations'' around Macedonia's plan to become a NATO member.
Greece expelled the diplomats based at the Russian Embassy in Athens last week amid allegations they helped fund protests against an agreement to end Greece's long-standing name dispute with Macedonia. If ratified, the deal would allow Macedonia to join NATO.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged Wednesday that Greece, a NATO member since 1952, had acted under pressure from its military allies.
"We are fully aware that Greece was subjected to pressure at the highest level,'' Zakharova told reporters.
She called the expulsions "crude and unjustified'' and said they "will not remain without consequences,'' but did not elaborate.
Since ordering the Russians out of Greece on July 11, Greek officials have insisted they want to maintain their country's traditionally friendly relations with Russia and were ready to put the incident behind them.
But Zakharova's remarks prompted an angry response from the Greek Foreign Ministry.
"The constant disrespect for Greece must stop. No one can or has the right to interfere in Greece's domestic affairs,'' the ministry said.
"The Russian authorities themselves are very well aware of what their people do,'' the statement continued. "The evidence based on which Greece acted was presented to the Russian authorities in a timely manner.''
Despite its support for NATO's expansion, Greece's left-wing government has advocated improved relations between Russia and the West.
Greece did not join the coordinated expulsions of Russian Embassy and consulate staff members from several Western countries following the March poisonings of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.
NATO leaders at a summit last week formally invited Macedonia to become the 30th member of the alliance.