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EU Leaders Voice Concern About Russia Destabilizing Balkan States

British Prime Minister Theresa May

Leaders of the European Union are voicing concern about "external influences" fueling divisions in the Western Balkans after recent moves by Russia and its Balkan allies to block closer ties with the West.

"I will make clear my concerns about the potential for increased instability in that region and the risks that presents to our collective security," British Prime Minister Theresa May said as she announced Britain will be hosting a Western Balkans summit next year focused on returning stability to the region.

"In the light of the alleged Montenegro coup plot, I will call for us do more to counter destabilizing Russian disinformation campaigns and raise the visibility of the Western commitment to this region," May said at an EU summit in Brussels on March 9.

Montenegrin authorities say Serbs acting at Russia's bidding tried to assassinate former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic on election day in October as part of a plot to destabilize the small country.

Montenegro hopes to become a NATO member later this year, a move Russia considers a "provocation" and a threat to its own security.

EU President Donald Tusk also alluded to the negative influence of Russia in the region, which the EU is seeking to counter with a new communications strategy and by reaffirming its support for incorporating aspiring Balkan states into the bloc.

The Western Balkans includes Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, and Kosovo.

"Tensions and divisions have got out of hand partly because of unhealthy external influences which have been destabilizing several countries for some time," Tusk said. "The EU remains...fully committed to the stability and prosperity of the region."

The EU held out the prospect of economic aid and full membership if nations continue down the path of economic and political reform. But progress has been slow, causing doubts to grow on both sides about the eventual outcome of the accession bids.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels
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