WASHINGTON – Every democracy should be concerned about Russian interference in Montenegro’s internal affairs, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Hoyt Brian Yee said, adding that his country would remain cautious in that regard.
“If Russia wants (and there are evidence for that) not only to interfere with elections but also to topple democratically elected governments of a country that has recently become a NATO member, then other countries in the Balkans should be careful,” Yee said commenting on the trial to organisers of a coup attempt in Montenegro, including Russian citizens. They allegedly planned to kill former PM Milo Đukanovic and prevent Montenegro from joining the western alliance.
In an interview with Voice of America, he said that the United States did not want to exaggerate the spread of Russian influence in the Western Balkans region, but that it would remain cautious.
Yee pointed out that the USA was taking steps to strengthen Western Balkan countries. He said it was trying to fight bad influence, Russian or otherwise. Yee said the USA wanted to make sure that neither Russia nor anyone else had an easy job of influencing foreign policy in the Balkans.
The US official believes that the recent meeting of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić with US Vice President Mike Pence, as well as the upcoming Pence’s visit to Montenegro, confirm the commitment of the new administration to the region.
However, he underscored that the democracies in the Western Balkans were still fragile.
“They need our support, and that’s clear to us… We are trying to provide it, but we need the political will of the other side, to resist corruption, to focus on solving, not politicising the problems. If the partnership is honest on both sides, then I believe it can succeed,” he said.
He also believes that leaders in the Balkans who are ready to carry out reforms for the purpose of European integration can block foreign influence and strengthen the positions of their countries in order to decide freely about their destiny.
The US diplomat said that the United States agreed with Russia in some issues such as the fight against terrorism and would continue to cooperate closely with that country.
“But where Russia and the US do not share the same interest, as the state secretary Tillerson and Vice President Pence already put it, the United States will defend the values they represent together with their allies. That’s what we do,” Yee added.