Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday warned Western nations against destabilizing the political situation in Macedonia.
His comments to a Moscow news conference came less than two days after the European Union’s enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, visited Skopje in another bid to help break a political deadlock that has left the country’s parties unable to form a government since an election in December.
The crisis has sparked inter-ethnic tension, as three ethnic Albanian parties push for Albanian to be designated a second official language as a condition to joining any coalition government. That has led to daily protests for three weeks.
“The current situation in Macedonia — I’d even call it a crisis, in many respects provoked artificially — is leading to the situation when attempts are made to split the society,” Lavrov said, adding the West should realize “the danger of such attempts.”
He also said he found it perplexing that Russia’s activities in the Balkans were considered provocative. Russian relations with Balkan nations shouldn’t be a cause for concern in the West, he said.
Official: West should be concerned
In an apparent rebuke, Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki told VOA that the West should be very concerned.
“We can perfectly imagine that a global power like Russia would have interests pretty much everywhere around the world,” he told VOA’s Macedonian service after spending a day meeting with U.S. legislators in Washington.
“What really matters is what would be in the interest of the countries in the region,” he added. “Regarding Macedonia, we are clear that EU and NATO membership are our priority. And we would like to achieve these objectives because we believe that this is the best recipe for peace, stability and economic prosperity in our region. We remain committed to these goals.”
European Union leaders and analysts have said the mounting political confrontation in Macedonia could spin out of control, adding to increasing ethnic tensions across a destabilizing Balkans.
Clear message urged
Last week, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic warned of serious consequences if the European Union does not give western Balkan countries a clear message about joining the bloc, citing growing nationalism and pro-Russian sympathies in the region.
On Wednesday, Serbian Defense Minister Zoran Djordjevic called for joint Serbian-U.S. military exercises.
On Monday, Montenegro’s Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic said U.S.-led NATO allies have been supportive of an investigation into what Montenegrin prosecutors are calling a pro-Russian plot to overthrow the country’s pro-Western government to prevent it from joining the European military alliance.
US Senate's approval needed
Montenegro’s bid to join NATO is awaiting approval from the U.S. Senate.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that Montenegro’s accession to NATO would create a contiguous border along the Adriatic coast.
“Since Montenegro borders five other Balkan nations, including NATO allies Croatia and Albania, its NATO membership will support greater integration, democratic reform, trade, security and stability with all of its neighbors,” he said.
The Montenegrin, Serbian and Macedonian ministers were in Washington for a State Department conference of the global coalition to defeat Islamic State.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Macedonian and Serbian services. Some information is from AP.