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Russia Protests Expulsion Of Envoys For 'Meddling' In Greece- Macedonia Name Dispute

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

Russia has summoned the Greek ambassador in Moscow to protest Athens' expulsion of two Russian diplomats accused of trying to block Greece's landmark agreement settling a name dispute with Macedonia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on July 13 that it summoned Ambassador Andreas Fryganas and expressed "a strong protest in relation to the expulsion of two Russian diplomats and the blocking of two others from entering" Greece.

Moscow accused the United States of being "behind the anti-Russian decision of the Greek government, which was timed to coincide with the opening of the NATO summit" on July 11.

The Greek government said on July 11 that it had taken unspecified "necessary measures to protect its national interest" after "interference" by Russian officials in the name dispute with its Balkan neighbor.

Greece's ERT1 public television channel said Athens accused the Russian envoys of trying to stir up protests aimed at blocking its agreement with Skopje giving Macedonia the new official name North Macedonia.

The deal settling Macedonia's decades-long name dispute cleared away the main obstacle blocking the former Yugoslav republic's bid to join NATO and the European Union -- an outcome strongly opposed by Russia.

The Russian ministry said its diplomats were not involved in any attempts to block the deal, however, and said the expulsions were "absolutely unfounded" and "not backed up by any facts by the Greek side."

It added that the expulsions are "at odds with the nature of our bilateral ties and could cause them serious damage."

"Tit-for-tat measures will be taken, as is always the case in such situations," a ministry spokesman told AFP.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told a news conference following the NATO summit on July 12: "We demand that all countries respect international law and our national sovereignty. And when we see certain incidents that do not go in that direction, we take the necessary measures."

He added that Greece seeks good relations with most countries, and that he was personally responsible for improving relations with Russia after taking office in 2015.

The new name given to North Macedonia was opposed by street protesters and opposition parties in both Greece and Macedonia, but the Macedonian parliament last week gave the deal final approval.

It still must be approved by Macedonian voters in a referendum this fall as well as by the Greek parliament before taking effect.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

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