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West's attitude stoking tensions in Balkans: Lavrov

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia 10 years ago. Sovereignty is rejected by Russia, whose Security Council veto prevents Kosovo from joining the United Nations, and five EU countries including Spain and Greece (AFP Photo/Armend NIMANI)

Belgrade (AFP) - The West is stoking tensions in the Balkans despite Russia's pacific stance, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying Monday ahead of a visit to Serbia.

Lavrov criticised the West for making Balkan states choose "either you are with the West or with Russia," in an interview with Serbia's Beta news agency.

He said the EU tried to get every aspiring member "to harmonise its foreign and defence policies" with that of the bloc, adding that this was "increasing tensions in Europe."

Serbia is seeking European Union membership. Moscow supports Belgrade in not recognising the independence of the former Serbian province of Kosovo, proclaimed a decade ago.

"It is senseless to talk now about Kosovo's place in the United Nations," Lavrov said.

He said that Resolution 1244, adopted in 1999 by the UN Security Council to end the conflict between Serbian forces and Kosovo Albanian pro-independence guerillas, "remains in place and recognises the autonomous province Kosovo as a part of Serbia."

The normalisation of ties with Kosovo and harmonisation of its diplomacy with that of the EU are among key criteria Serbia has to meet to join the bloc.

"Throughout the history of the Balkans, Russia has always tried to avoid confrontation and helped the people of this region to defend their interests... and their spiritual, religious and cultural roots."

Lavrov criticised the "politics of encircling Russia with the military infrastructure" of NATO and said one "should not strengthen one's own security at the expense of the security of others."

"NATO enlargement is a mistake," Lavrov said.

Montenegro joined NATO in 2017, while Macedonia is a candidate.

"No action currently undertaken by NATO increases anyone's security," Lavrov said.

The minister, due to arrive for a two-day visit to Serbia Wednesday, also defended the role played by the pro-Russian media in the Balkans.

"To protect the pluralism of opinion that the West constantly advocates, to have a different point of view can only be beneficial to listeners, viewers and social network users," he told Beta.