Putin blasts US, West over NATO earlier than Serbia go to

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Vladimir Putin has accused the US and the West of destabilizing the Balkans with NATO expansion policies as Serbia prepares to greet a hero for the Russian president.

Putin arrives in Serbia on Thursday for his fourth visit to the Balkans since 2001. A fountain in Belgrade’s main square has been lit in the colors of the Russian and Serbian flags, bookstores in the capital show works on Putin and a plateau in the front of the largest Orthodox church in the Balkans is hastily paved ahead of his planned visit to the temple.

Serbia has had close ties with its traditional Slavic ally, Russia, even though the country is officially seeking membership of the European Union. Belgrade has refused to join the Western sanctions against Russia against Ukraine and promised to stay out of NATO.

Putin told two Serbian government newspapers in an interview published on Wednesday that “the policies of the United States and certain Western countries to promote their dominance in the region are a major destabilizing factor”.

Despite strong Russian opposition, Montenegro joined NATO in 2017, while Macedonia is trying to resolve its name dispute with Greece to join the Western military alliance. Last week, NATO foreign ministers resumed a program that could also lead to Bosnia’s membership. The four other neighbors of Serbia are already members.

“In 2017, Montenegro was admitted to NATO, disregarding the opinion of half of its population,” Putin said. “You didn’t dare hold a referendum. As a result, the country is in a period of political instability. “

Two Russian intelligence officials in Montenegro were accused of trying to carry out a coup in the tiny Adriatic state in 2016 to prevent NATO accession.

Putin said that in Macedonia “last year the Republic of Macedonia started the process of adopting constitutional amendments, renaming the country and revising the foundations of Macedonian national identity in order to expedite NATO membership.”

He said that while the West is pursuing wrong policies in the Balkans, “Russia knows and understands the complexities of the Balkans and the history of the region”.

Putin said Russia has “always viewed the Balkans as a space for constructive cooperation. Russia has many friends here today, and Serbia as a strategic partner has a special place. “

The historically close ties between Russia and Serbia were visibly revived recently after Putin stepped up his efforts to restore Moscow’s influence in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe.

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