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Three NATO countries ban Russian FM's flight to Serbia, visit cancelled

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)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council meeting, in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on June 1, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Three NATO countries have closed their airspace to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s plane, preventing him from traveling to Serbia, amid heightened tensions over the Ukraine war.

As a result of sanctions against Moscow over its military operation in Ukraine, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and Montenegro - all members of the NATO military alliance - in an unprecedented move banned Lavrov’s Monday flight to Belgrade, marking a fresh escalation between Russia and the West.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed that the countries bordering Serbia closed their airspace to Lavrov’s aircraft, as reported by Russia's TASS news agency.

"The countries bordering Serbia have closed the only air route to the aircraft of Sergey Lavrov who was to depart for Serbia. The Russian delegation was scheduled to hold talks in Belgrade, while the EU and NATO member countries have closed their airspace," Zakharova said late on Sunday.

Earlier, the Serbian daily Danas cited Prime Minister Ana Brnabic saying that the situation around the top Russian diplomat's visit was “extremely complicated” and that President Aleksandar Vucic was dealing with the logistics of his trip.

Interfax cited a senior Russian foreign ministry source confirming the cancellation of the visit and stressing that diplomacy "has yet to master teleportation.”

It would have been the first visit of a high-ranking Russian official to Serbia since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis and at a time when the European Union is preparing a new package of sanctions against Moscow.

Serbia, a candidate for EU accession, has developed close relations with Russia over the years and has managed to fend off the West’s pressure to condemn Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

The country has also been successful in securing its Russian natural gas supplies while other countries were cut off from the sources. Last Sunday, the Serbian leader announced a new three-year gas supply contract with Russia.

Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine in late February, following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements and Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin said one of the goals of what he called a “special military operation” was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.

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