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Russia Says Ban on Lavrov’s Plane a ‘Hostile Action’

Russia Says Ban on Lavrov’s Plane a ‘Hostile Action’

Monday, 6 June, 2022 - 10:45
In this file photo taken on May 31, 2022 Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a joint press conference with Bahrain's Foreign Minister at the Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs' headquarters in the capital Manama. (AFP)

The Kremlin on Monday said airspace closures by three eastern European countries which prevented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov from traveling to Serbia were a "hostile action."

Countries surrounding Serbia - Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Montenegro - closed their airspace to an official plane that would have carried Moscow's top diplomat to Belgrade on Monday.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters such actions could cause problems with the timetabling of high-level diplomatic meetings. But they would not prevent Moscow from maintaining contacts with friendly countries, he said.

Serbia on Monday confirmed that a planned visit by Lavrov to the Balkan country will not take place.

President Aleksandar Vucic said Monday that Russia's ambassador to Serbia had met with him and informed him of the reasons why Lavrov could not come.

Vucic offered no details, but the pro-Russian Vecernje Novosti daily carried photos of what it said were official documents rejecting the overflights.

Lavrov described the ban as "unprecedented", adding that he had yet to receive an explanation for the decision.

He said that he would instead invite his Serbian counterpart to visit him in Moscow, adding: "The main thing is no one will be able to destroy our relations with Serbia".

Lavrov told reporters: "If a visit by the Russian foreign minister to Serbia is seen in the West as something approaching a threat on a universal scale, then things in the West are clearly pretty bad."

Serbia has maintained friendly relations with Russia despite the war in Ukraine, refusing to join sanctions against Moscow.

Serbia also is fully dependent on Russian gas. Vucic recently talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone to arrange a new deal on gas supplies for the next three years.

Serbia's Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said he deeply regretted "the obstruction" of the visit of Lavrov, whom he described as "a great and proven friend of Serbia."

"A world in which diplomats cannot seek peace is a world in which there is no peace. Those who prevented the arrival of Sergei Lavrov do not want peace, they dream of defeating Russia," Vulin said in a statement.

"Serbia is proud that it is not part of the anti-Russian hysteria, and the countries that are, will have time to be ashamed."

Analyst Slobodan Stupar described Lavrov's attempted visit to Belgrade as a "show" that would have been used by Moscow to further vilify the West.

"I believe the Russians invited themselves" to Serbia, Stupar told The Associated Press. "They are terribly isolated. ... They can now say that Europe and the world are not democratic and won't allow a simple flyover."

Analysts in Belgrade have pointed out that Lavrov's visit would further erode Serbia's standing in the West after Belgrade rejected imposing sanctions on Moscow.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is expected in the region late this week.

Stupar said that Vucic has placed himself "in between" Russia and the West, by attempting to maintain ties with Moscow while Serbia is seeking membership in the European Union at the same time.

"That is the worst possible position one can imagine," Stupar said.

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