US VP Pence: Balkans fu­ture is ‘in the West’

Pence voices sup­port for na­tions threat­ened by Rus­sian in­flu­ence

Kuwait Times - - LOCAL -

Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence said yes­ter­day the fu­ture of the Balkans be­longs in the West, reaf­firm­ing US com­mit­ment to the still-tense Euro­pean re­gion amid strong Rus­sian pres­sure to as­sert its his­tor­i­cal in­flu­ence there. Pence was speak­ing in Mon­tene­gro - a small Balkan coun­try that joined NATO this year de­spite Moscow’s anger. It was his third and fi­nal stop in a Euro­pean trip that saw him voic­ing sup­port for na­tions threat­ened by Rus­sian in­flu­ence and high­light­ing US com­mit­ment to its al­lies over­seas amid wors­en­ing ties with Moscow.

“We truly be­lieve the fu­ture of the Western Balkans is in the West,” Pence said in Podgorica, the cap­i­tal. “We look for­ward to af­firm­ing the com­mit­ment of the United States to build­ing re­la­tion­ships and strength­en­ing ties between the Euro­pean com­mu­nity, the Western Balkans and the United States of Amer­ica. “I bring greet­ings from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump who sent me here as a vis­i­ble sign of the al­liance that we now en­joy through NATO,” he added.

The Western Balkans re­fer to coun­tries in the for­mer Yu­goslavia that aspire to or have al­ready joined Western in­sti­tu­tions in­clud­ing the Euro­pean Union and NATO. It also in­cludes Al­ba­nia. Mon­tene­gro joined NATO in June. Rus­sia had con­sid­ered the coun­try of 620,000 peo­ple, with an army of some 2,000 sol­diers, its tra­di­tional Slavic ally. Pence, who is ex­pected to at­tend on Wed­nes­day a sum­mit of Balkan lead­ers, praised Mon­tene­gro for stand­ing up to Rus­sian pres­sure. Its ac­ces­sion to NATO, Pence said, is “a sign of the strength of this coun­try ten years af­ter in­de­pen­dence.”

Pence is the high­est-rank­ing Amer­i­can of­fi­cial to visit the small Adri­atic state in 100 years. The pro-Western Balkan states had feared that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump - who once called NATO an ob­so­lete or­ga­ni­za­tion - would leave them to the Rus­sian sphere of in­flu­ence. Pence’s trip ap­peared in­tended to al­le­vi­ate those fears. “NATO is made up of large coun­tries and small coun­tries but the US has no small al­lies, and we cher­ish our new al­liance with Mon­tene­gro through NATO,” Pence said.

Dur­ing a for­mal din­ner with Mon­tene­gro Pres­i­dent Filip Vu­janovic on Tues­day evening, Pence said Mon­tene­gro’s “courage, par­tic­u­larly in the face of Rus­sian pres­sure, in­spires the world and I com­mend you for that.”

Rus­sia is ac­cused of mas­ter­mind­ing an at­tempted coup in Mon­tene­gro in Oc­to­ber to pre­vent it from join­ing NATO. Moscow has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions. Ser­bia is Rus­sia’s only re­main­ing ally in the Balkan re­gion, although Bel­grade for­mally says it wants to join the Euro­pean Union.

Ser­bia has been beef­ing up mil­i­tary ties with Moscow, while also main­tain­ing a part­ner­ship re­la­tion­ship with NATO. Ear­lier in his tour, Pence pledged sup­port for the for­mer Soviet repub­lic of Georgia, and met with the pres­i­dents of three NATO coun­tries - Es­to­nia, Latvia and Lithua­nia in the Es­to­nian cap­i­tal of Tallinn, where he said that “an at­tack on one of us is an at­tack on us all.” Georgia and the three Baltic na­tions were all oc­cu­pied for nearly five decades by Soviet troops be­fore re­gain­ing their in­de­pen­dence in 1991 af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Union. — AP

PODGORICA: US Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence waves at the Adri­atic Char­ter Sum­mit in Podgorica. — AFP

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