Future of Balkans is in the West, says US Vice President

US Vice President Mike Pence has said the future of Europe's Balkan nations is in the West, reaffirming Washington's commitment to the region as Russia works to assert its historical influence there.

Mr Pence spoke in Montenegro, his third and final stop of a European trip that saw him voicing support for nations pressured by Russia and highlighting US allegiance to its allies overseas.

He is the highest-ranking American official to visit the small Adriatic state in 100 years.

"We truly believe the future of the Western Balkans is in the West," Mr Pence said in Podgorica, Montenegro's capital.

Future of Balkans is in the West, says US Vice President

The Western Balkans refers 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, a move that angered Moscow.

Russia had considered the country of 620,000 people, with an army of some 2,000 soldiers, its traditional Slavic ally.

Mr Pence, who attended a summit of Balkan leaders on Wednesday, praised Montenegro for standing up to Russian pressure.

Its accession to Nato, Mr Pence said, is "a sign of the strength of this country 10 years after independence".

"I bring greetings from President Donald Trump, who sent me here as a visible sign of the alliance that we now enjoy through Nato," the vice president said.

Russia is accused of masterminding an attempted coup in Montenegro in October to prevent it from joining Nato. Moscow has denied the allegations.

In his address to the Balkan leaders, Mr Pence called Russia an "unpredictable country" that wants to destabilise the region.

"As you well know, Russia continues to seek to redraw international borders by force and here in the Western Balkans, Russia has worked to destabilise the region, undermining your democracies, and divide you from each other and from the rest of Europe," he said.

"The Western Balkans have the right to decide your own future, and that is your right alone," Mr Pence said.

The Balkan states that are pro-West had feared Mr Trump - who once called Nato an obsolete organisation - would leave them to the Russian sphere of influence.

Mr Pence's trip appeared intended to alleviate those fears amid the investigations in Washington into Russia's efforts to interfere in last year's presidential election.

"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," Mr Pence said.

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

Serbia is Russia's only remaining ally in the Balkans, 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, Mr Pence pledged support for the former Soviet republic of Georgia and met with the presidents of three Nato countries - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - in Estonia, 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.

PA

More on this topic

New York prosecutors subpoena Trump tax returnsNew York prosecutors subpoena Trump tax returns

US ‘locked and loaded’ to respond to attack on Saudis, Trump saysUS ‘locked and loaded’ to respond to attack on Saudis, Trump says

Trump backs US-Israeli defence treaty ahead of key electionsTrump backs US-Israeli defence treaty ahead of key elections

Joe Biden defends Obama legacy under attack from liberals at Democrat debateJoe Biden defends Obama legacy under attack from liberals at Democrat debate

More in this Section

Bombing kills 24 at Afghan president’s rallyBombing kills 24 at Afghan president’s rally

Iran closes door on talks with US amid Saudi oil attack tensionsIran closes door on talks with US amid Saudi oil attack tensions

Who are the key players involved in Britain's Supreme Court prorogation case?Who are the key players involved in Britain's Supreme Court prorogation case?

Supreme Court to hear appeals over Boris Johnson’s suspension of ParliamentSupreme Court to hear appeals over Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament


Lifestyle

Whether you’re into a ‘no make-up make-up’ look or jet black lipstick, LFW had it all.These are the biggest beauty looks from a vampy London Fashion Week

It will take you out of your beauty comfort zone, but is remarkably easy to pull off.London Fashion Week: This top make-up artist wants you to ditch your cat-eye for a ‘blue fade’

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a 20-something man who isn’t having any luck meeting women in bars and clubs.Ask a counsellor: ‘Neither me or my mates have had a date for years – what are we doing wrong?’

As Aussie beer and cider brand Gayle launches in the UK, Abi Jackson finds out more from co-founder Virginia Buckworth.‘Brewed with love’: How new Aussie brand Gayle is putting ‘gay ale’ on the world drinks map

More From The Irish Examiner