Following the scuppering of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s planned visit to Serbia due to Western Balkan countries refusing to let him fly over their airspace, he took a swipe at the EU and NATO and possibly showed support for the Open Balkan initiative.
Russia claims Bulgaria, Montenegro, and North Macedonia closing their airspace to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s flight to Serbia on Sunday was a “hostile act” that forced him to cancel his visit, despite a ban on Russian flights being in place for several months.
“NATO and EU want to turn the Balkans into a project of their own called ‘closed Balkans’,” Lavrov said Monday (6 June) evening in reference to the Open Balkan cross-border economic project supported by Serbia, Albania, and North Macedonia.
He added that “if a visit by a Russian foreign minister is being seen in the West as something close to a global threat, then by all accounts things within the West are pretty bad”.
The Open Balkan initiative has received mixed reviews locally with Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina refusing to join and Montenegro unsure, due to their concerns it could impact their EU hopes. The EU has remained tight-lipped on the initiative.
The comments from Lavrov have caused uproar in local media who have said it shows Russia is behind the initiative that they say runs parallel to the Berlin process. Open Balkan leaders are due to meet on Wednesday in Ohrid where the comments of Lavrov are sure to be on the agenda.
Serbia is the only country in the region that refuses to impose sanctions on Russia.
Last week, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić signed a new contract for the provision of gas from Russia, another slap in the face to the EU and the US, which have pressured Serbia to align its foreign policy with the EU.
Lavrov’s visit was planned in preparation for a Vučić-Putin meeting.
Vucic said he had been informed by the Russian ambassador of the cancellation of the visit and announced he would comment on the issue on Monday evening.
“A world in which diplomats can not achieve peace is a world in which there is no peace. Those who prevented the arrival of Sergei Lavrov do not want peace, they dream of defeating Russia,” stated Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin.
“Serbia is proud that it is not part of the anti-Russian hysteria, while countries that are part of [such hysteria] will have time to be ashamed,” Vulin added.