Russia accuses US of pressurising North Macedonia into name-change

Russia’s foreign minister has accused the United States of interfering in Macedonian politics after the small Balkan state struck a deal with Greece this summer to officially change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia. 

Sergei Lavrov said the US was bullying the country of 2 million people into ratifying a treaty agreed with Greece in July in order to increase its chances of joining Nato. 

"Greece is an important ally for maintaining stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the Balkans. Brussels and Washington have exercised unprecedented pressure on the government and voters of FYROM on the name deal and of going on to blackmail and bribe lawmakers in Skopje to vote through the constitutional changes demanded by the agreement, even though the referendum failed," Mr Lavrov said. 

"Now there are frantic attempts to get the process in the final stretch by early 2019," he continued, in an interview with Efimerida ton Syntakton, a Greek newspaper, that was published yesterday/FRI". 

The comments come as Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, arrived in Moscow for talks with Vladimir Putin. 

Macedonia and Greece signed a treaty to end a 27-year row by renaming the ex-Yugoslav state the Republic of North Macedonia  in July. The move means that Athens will drop its objections to Macedonia becoming part of the European Union and also paves the way for the nation to join the transatlantic military alliance, which Russia opposes.

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The Macedonian government won a referendum on the agreement in September. Opponents of the deal have argued the vote failed because less than 40 percent turned out. 

Shortly after the agreement was signed, Greece expelled two Russian diplomats and barred the entry of two others for allegedly undermining national security by trying to whip up nationalist opposition to the deal.   

The US has accused Russia of exercising ‘malign influence’ in Macedonia and other Balkan countries in a bid to block their integration into Nato and the EU. 

Russia has denied allegations of meddling. It has claimed that a Macedonian parliament vote supported the name change and was rigged through blackmail, threats and vote-buying. 

Greece has long opposed the tiny-landlocked state using the name Macedonia, contending it implied territorial claims over a northern Greek province of the same name. 

In February 2018, tens of thousands of nationalists marched in Greek cities to protest Macedonia’s name. The demonstrations turned violent when anti-fascist counter-demonstrators clashed with police in Athens. 

In August, the US and its European allies expelled dozens of Russian diplomats from more than twenty five countries after EU leaders agreed that it was ‘highly likely’ that Russia was responsible for a nerve agent attack in the UK. 

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