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Pompeo warns of China, Russia influence in Balkans, vows US aid if alliance kept

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) attends a joint press conference with North Macedonia's Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (R) in Lake Ohrid on October 4, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned two tiny Balkan states of North Macedonia and Montenegro against what he calls the risks of Chinese and Russian influence through trade deals, pledging US alliance for “the good of” their citizens.

“As I have done elsewhere in my travels in Europe, I also warned of the risks of Chinese investments in sensitive technologies and China’s bribe-heavy strategy to secure infrastructure deals,” Pompeo alleged on Friday following a meeting with North Macedonia’s top officials.

“The United States will continue to partner with you for the good of your citizens, for the region, and for the world,” he added.

China reportedly includes Balkan countries in its ‘One Belt, One Road’ project to open up trade links for Chinese companies, extending loans worth billions of dollars to construct railways, roads and power plants.

Washington’s top diplomat had begun a short visit to the two Balkan nations earlier Friday to discuss their potential roles in the US-led NATO military alliance amid Russia’s fierce opposition to persisting NATO and EU expansion.

This is while Moscow, which maintains strong ties with some of the Balkan nations, has openly opposed enlargement of the two powerful alliances to the six Western Balkan states.

“We want North Macedonia to succeed, not struggle with corruption and with debt,” Pompeo further claimed on Friday, adding: “Hearts and minds of North Macedonia citizens should guide country forward, not Russian bots and trolls on social media.”

“You’ve contributed troops to fight alongside ours in both Iraq and Afghanistan… I am confident that the United States Senate will ratify your accession protocol this fall, so that we can formally fold you into the NATO team,” he then underlined.

Pompeo became the most senior American official to visit Montenegro since 2017 when the country joined the NATO alliance. He is also the highest level American official to visit North Macedonia since 2001.

North Macedonia’s efforts to integrate with Western institutions were hindered until it agreed last year with neighboring Greece to change its name.

Greece had long insisted that “Macedonia,” the name the country chose after the breakup of Yugoslavia, implied a territorial claim on the Greek region with the same name.

While in Montenegro, Pompeo also pledged Washington was about to finalize a deal to ship “$36 million worth of light tactical vehicles” to the country.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) shakes hands with Montenegro's Prime Minister Dusko Markovic during their meeting in Podgorica on October 4, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

He further applauded intelligence cooperation with Montenegro, through which “we’ve been able to develop a patch against the latest Russian (computer) malware that now protects millions of devices worldwide.”

“It is of strategic importance for Montenegro to have US and EU presence in the Balkans so there would be no space for (influence) of those countries who do not share same values,” said Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic for his part.

Meanwhile, Pompeo’s latest tour in Europe has been overshadowed by an impeachment inquiry in US Congress against President Donald Trump.

Democratic Party legislators have pushed ahead with the inquiry following revelations by a whistleblower that Trump had asked Ukraine in July to launch a probe on his chief political rival Joe Biden and his son, and had withheld aid to Ukraine ahead of this request.

Pompeo has not yet commented on evidence presented in the probe on Thursday, in which it was revealed the former US special representative for Ukraine negotiations, Kurt Volker, thought it was “crazy” to withhold military aid from the country while it was engaged in a military confrontation with Russia.

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