U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will discuss “Russian efforts to sow discord” in Montenegro and North Macedonia when he visits the two Balkan countries next week, a senior U.S. official says.
"It's up to these sovereign and independent states and their people to make their decisions on the direction they want to go, and their decision to pursue NATO membership, I think, has been important for them," the unidentified official said on September 27 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, according to AFP.
Montenegro became NATO's 29th member in 2017 amid opposition from Russia, which has long opposed any further enlargement of the Western military alliance.
The U.S. official cited an alleged 2016 coup plot in Montenegro that aimed to halt the country’s plans to join NATO.
A Montenegrin court has handed jail sentences to opposition politicians and, in absentia, alleged Russian spying.
Russia also sought to stir up opposition to an agreement between then-Macedonia and neighboring Greece that paved the way for the former Yugoslav republic to join NATO and the European Union, the U.S. official said.
The 2018 deal, under which Macedonia agreed to change its name to North Macedonia, ending a decades-old dispute with Athens, “demonstrated leadership and courage on the part of the leaders in North Macedonia and Greece," according to the U.S. official.
Pompeo is set to meet with President Milo Djukanovic, Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, and Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic when he visits Montenegro on October 4, the State Department has said.
The same day he will travel to North Macedonia for talks with President Stevo Pendarovski and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.
Pompeo’s trips to the Balkan countries are part of a six-day European tour that will also include stops in Italy, the Vatican, and Greece.