As Athens seeks to defuse tensions with Moscow over its expulsion last week of Russian diplomats, the prime minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, brought the issue back to the fore on Monday, accusing Greek businessmen “sympathetic to the Russian cause” of paying large sums of money to his country’s citizens to commit acts of violence ahead of the referendum on the name deal struck with Greece last month.
Speaking to BuzzFeed, Zaev said his government received a series of reports that people were paid amounts ranging from 13,000 to 21,000 US dollars. He also said that he asked, in private, for help with the referendum to change FYROM’s name to North Macedonia from US President Donald Trump at last week’s NATO summit, ahead of the American leader’s meeting in Helsinki on Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Zaev’s remarks came after Greece expelled two Russian diplomats and barred entry to another two Russian nationals after “irrefutable” evidence suggested they tried to bribe officials and embolden clergymen and far-right groups to oppose the deal, which paved the way for FYROM’s induction to NATO – something Russia fiercely opposes.
“The Russian representatives who were here, and also others from Moscow, [don’t] hide themselves that they are against our integration in NATO,” Zaev told BuzzFeed.
In an interview on Saturday with Russia’s RT network, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied Greece’s claims and slammed Athens for following a pattern similar to that of Western countries that, he said, like to accuse Russia with little or no evidence. He also repeated Moscow’s claim that the US was behind the Greek move.
Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos reiterated on Monday that the US was not pulling any strings and sought to put the spat behind the two countries, saying that Athens considers the matter closed.
“We took the measures we needed to take and at the moment we consider the matter finished,” he said.