Macedonia will not allow Russia to obstruct its agreement with Greece on a new name for that former Yugoslav republic which opened the door to NATO membership, Macedonia's Defence Minister, Radmila Sekerinska-Jankovska said in Zagreb on Friday.
Athens decided to expel two Russian diplomats and bar another two from entering the country on Wednesday suspecting them of trying to undermine the agreement on Macedonia's name reached with Skopje in June. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that it would respond in kind.
The deal changing the former Yugoslav republic's official name to North Macedonia has paved the way a formal invitation to join NATO on at a summit in Brussels on Wednesday which Moscow strongly opposes.
“We have always said that we want to have good cooperation with Russia, but it's us who make decisions. Macedonia has decided,” Sekerinska-Jankovska told reporters in Zagreb, where she attended a meeting of defence ministers from the region, also attended by US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis.
She added that she regretted the decision of the Greek authorities to expel the two Russian diplomats, but added that her government would remain alert and focused on the implementation of the agreement with Athens.
The agreement must be ratified by both countries, and a referendum is to be held in Macedonia.
“The referendum and the decisions made will be to the benefit of our citizens, and we will not tolerate any interference,” Sekerinska-Jankovska said.
Sekerinska-Jankovska added that the delay of Macedonia's accession to NATO in 2008 caused a serious political, economic and financial crisis in the country. “We will never allow that to happen again,” she added.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it believed that Macedonia had been forced into NATO, and that such a move only deepened divisions and increased tension in Europe.
Greece has been blocking the start of talks on Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic integration for years because of its objection to the country's name. Macedonia has been waiting for an invitation to join NATO since 2008 and for the launch of European Union accession talks since 2005.