TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) -U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis accused Russia on Monday of attempting to influence the outcome of a referendum in Macedonia on changing the country’s name that would open the way for it to join NATO and the European Union.
Speaking after talks in Skopje with Macedonia’s leaders, Mattis also said the United States was looking to expand cybersecurity cooperation with the small Balkan country.
Macedonians will vote on Sept. 30 on a deal reached in June with neighboring Greece that would change the country’s name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia. Athens insisted on the change in return for lifting its opposition to Skopje joining NATO and the EU.
“We do not want to see Russia doing there (in Macedonia) what they have tried to do in so many other countries,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him to Skopje, apparently referring to Washington’s concerns about Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other polls.
“No doubt that they have transferred money and they are also conducting broader influence campaigns,” Mattis said, adding it was unclear how effective Moscow’s efforts had been.
Russia denies the charges of meddling but strongly opposes Macedonia’s plan to join NATO. Its ambassador in Skopje has said the country could become “a legitimate target” if relations between Russia and NATO deteriorate further.
In July, Greece expelled two Russian diplomats and barred two other people from entering the country for trying to bribe officials and foment demonstrations to thwart the deal with Macedonia.