Serbia's defense minister, Aleksandar Vulin, slammed NATO's top general on Monday for saying that one of the biggest threats for Europe is the increasing Russian influence in the Balkans.
The US Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said in a statement last week during a US Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that he has seen an increase in Russian influence over his year and a half as supreme NATO commander in Europe and that he sees it as more threatening than in the Baltics, former Russian satellites Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
According to sources, Vulin said that such a statement represents the most "dangerous" anti-Serb statement since the Western military alliance bombed the country in 1999 over its bloody crackdown against Kosovo Albanians.
Scaparrotti said that “while the Baltic region in the north of Europe is crucial, those nations are now part of NATO and have a more stable position on the continent.”
He went on to say that he was more concerned with the support of Serbian people within the Balkans who are more susceptible to Russian influence.
Vulin responded by saying: "Since 1999, there has not been a more irresponsible statement.
"By saying that the whole (Serbian) nation represents a danger for the Balkans is a call for the unification of all (Balkan people) against the Serbs," he further added.
"There's no Russian influence in Serbia," Vulin said. "Serbia is an independent nation that chooses its own friends."
Scaparrotti said during the Senate hearing that "Russia's at work in the Balkans. I think we've kind of taken our eye off the area."
Serbia formally wants to join the EU, but its leaders have been intensively working with Moscow in fostering both military and political ties despite calls from the bloc that the Balkan state should align its foreign policies if it really wants to be a member.
Analysts say that the US views the Balkans not as a region with prospects of economic cooperation and partnership on equal terms but rather as a battlefield against Russia. Such a policy will lead to increased tensions and destabilization on the European continent as well as in the region.