Zaev: No evidence of Russian interference in referendum
Zaev: No evidence of Russian interference in referendum
US defense chief warns of Russian influence-peddling in Macedonia vote
20 September, 2018, 13:46
Mattis condemned Russia's alleged attempts to use its money in order to reinforce the opposition to the referendum, which could pave the way for Macedonia's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation membership.
"No doubt that they have transferred money and they are also conducting broader influence campaigns", Mattis said. "We ought to leave the Macedonian people to make up their own minds".
Macedonians will vote September 30 on whether to approve the new name of North Macedonia is an effort to placate Greece, which has for years blocked Macedonia's path to NATO and the European Union.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, who was on an official visit to Macedonia, met on Monday with Macedonian leaders and officials, including President Gjorge Ivanov.
Mattis is the latest in a string of Western leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to visit Macedonia and urge its citizens to back the name deal.
"We don't want to see Russian Federation doing there what they have tried to do in so many other countries", he said.
But he had harsh words for what he called "Russian influence operations" and efforts to pay off certain political groups.
Moscow denounced the expulsions as unjustified and responded in kind with expulsions of Greeks. Greece argues that the name implies a territorial claim against the northern Greek region of Macedonia and its ancient heritage. The name change is a result of negotiations with neighboring Greece that both prime ministers signed in June in Prespa, Macedonia.
But there is widespread concern about Russian impact on the vote.
Washington believes that pro-Russian groups are actively working to undermine the referendum, with Moscow trying to buy off individuals and spreading disinformation.
The U.S. defense secretary later announced a plan for the United States and Macedonia to "expand our cybersecurity cooperation to thwart malicious cyberactivity that threatens both our democracies".
"I think Mattis could make or break this thing by delivering a strong message to the opposition, which has been grudgingly quiet, that they need to come out in full-throated support, because they're not going to get another chance later", Farkas said. "That's our guide for a better life", Zaev told them.
The United States spends almost $5 million a year in security assistance for Macedonia and since 1991 has provided about $750 million in total assistance.
On arrival, Mattis - the first U.S. defence chief to visit Skopje since 2004 - met his Macedonian counterpart Radmila Sekerinska and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who struck the name-change deal with Greece.
Thousands of Macedonians went to Skopje on Sunday to join the march organized by the "Together for European Macedonia" Coalition to support the idea of EU membership, Actualno reported.
According to recent opinion polls, more than 50 percent of people are likely to vote, with the majority supporting the membership bids and the name deal.
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