Stepping up criticism after leaving it to other officials, Russian President Vladimir Putin said a deal that Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras made to rename the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) was put together by the United States to increase its influence in the Balkans.
In an interview with Serbia’s Vecernje Novosti newspaper ahead of his scheduled visit to the country later this week, Putin said that the FYROM name deal to call the country North Macedonia was forced from outside against popular will in a bid to draw the country into the NATO military alliance.
He also said the US was destabilizing the Balkan peninsula by “asserting their dominant role” in the region.
That came as Russia rejected Greek claims of meddling in internal affairs and that the issue would be brought up before the United Nations Security Council.
“We are in no way meddling in Greece’s internal affairs, but Russia will be expressing its point of view on the issues within the competence of the UN Security Council,” said Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, according to Kathimerini.
Grushko said the Russian Foreign Ministry statement was a fundamental assessment of “how negotiations (between Greece and FYROM) had proceeded.”
He said the West’s interference was unprecedented and was aimed at achieving clear geopolitical goals without mentioning the US said that was Russia’s aim as well, with Greece finding itself in the middle trying to play to both sides.
As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia could veto the deal in how the United Nations would call FYROM but political analysts have said it would be unlikely once it gets to that point.
The agreement to call FYROM as North Macedonia awaits a vote in the Greek Parliament and would also lift Greek vetoes barring that country from getting into the defense alliance and opening European Union accession talks.
It was brokered with the help of United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who had tried for two decades to get it done and last year picked up talks again after a three-year break amid speculation the US wanted to keep Russian out of the Balkans.
It is aimed to end a 27-year-name feud that began when a New Democracy government allowed the new country emerging from the collapse of Yugoslavia to use the name of an ancient Greek province in what was supposed to be a temporary acronym.
But after successive FYROM governments kept claiming Greek lands, including the real Macedonia and second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki, Greece used its veto to keep the country out of NATO and EU hopes.
Tsipras, who has switched from anti-Americanism talk to cozying up to the US and broken his vow to take Greece out of NATO and not send Greek troops to help the alliance in foreign battles, had also gone to see Putin in Moscow recently.
That was to mend fences and bury the hatchet after Greece expelled two Russian diplomats, claiming they tried to undermine the FYROM name deal that’s also opposed by two-thirds of Greeks in surveys.