James Appathurai, the NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs, told the Alliance Belgrade Week meeting the Western Balkans was of strategic importance to NATO, adding Russia was undermining the Euro-Atlantic integrations, particularly of Macedonia and Montenegro, the FoNet news agency reported on Friday.
Appathurai said Serbia had good relations with both Russia and NATO and that was not a problem.
Serbia’s Foreign Minister told the gathering on Thursday NATO, and Serbia share “responsibility and obligation” to secure the lasting regional stability and that Belgrade expected from the Alliance to understand and support its priorities, particularly concerning Kosovo.
He added that Serbia – NATO relations were burdened with the Alliance’s 1999 bombing of the then Yugoslavia over Kosovo and that the two had a different view of the event, but that was a reality.
Appathurai agreed there were "some complications" in Belgrade – NATO relationship, but that the cooperation between Serbia’s Defence Ministry and the Alliance was “very good.”
But, he noticed that “the public in Serbia does not know enough about the cooperation with the Alliance, joint exercises, scientific programmes and the participation of Serbia's soldiers in the international missions.”
Appathurai added it was important not to present NATO in a bad light. “We would like to have a more positive NATO image in public” in Serbia.
“We are trying to help the countries in the region to achieve their goals, regardless of NATO membership. We want to cooperate with everyone,” he said, adding the Western Balkans’ stability was not entirely solid.
Appathurai said there were ethnic and political, economic challenges, as well as an external factor influence, especially in Montenegro and Macedonia.
He reiterated that Moscow was impeding the integrations.
“Russia has troops in Georgia and Moldova, it amputated Crimea, destabilised Ukraine, poisoned its opponents on the NATO territory, conducted cyber attacks, violated agreements on arms control, " he said, adding "that complicate our relations with partners, especially in the Baltic, the Black Sea and Western Balkans.”
Appadurai said NATO wanted good relations with Russia, but it could not ignore Moscow’s moves.
He added both NATO and the European Union had shown more interest in the Western Balkans in the last two-three years and that the regional countries’ efforts to come closer to the EU and the Alliance contributed to the economic progress and stability.