Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was forced to cancel a visit to Serbia on Monday after several of the country’s neighbours prevented his plane from passing through their airspace, officials said.
Lavrov had been due to hold talks with top officials in Belgrade, one of Moscow’s few remaining allies in Europe since the launch of its military offensive in Ukraine earlier this year.
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“The countries around Serbia have closed the channel of communication by refusing to authorise the overflight of the plane of Sergey Lavrov who was headed to Serbia,” Russian news agencies quoted foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying.
“The Russian delegation should have arrived in Belgrade for talks. But the EU and NATO member countries closed their airspace,” Zakharova added.
The Kremlin blamed the “hostile actions” of three Eastern European countries for the cancellation.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters such actions could cause problems with the timing of high-level diplomatic meetings. But they would not prevent Moscow from maintaining contacts with friendly countries, he said.
“Such hostile actions against our country can cause certain problems,” Peskov said.
Serbian daily Vecernje Novosti reported that Bulgaria, Macedonia and Montenegro had refused access to their airspace.
Lavrov described the move by the three countries as “unprecedented”, adding that he had yet to receive an explanation for their decision.
He said that he would instead invite his Serbian counterpart to visit him in Moscow, adding: “The main thing is no one will be able to destroy our relations with Serbia.”
Moscow’s top diplomat has been sanctioned by the West over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The European Union has also closed its airspace to Russian aircraft due to the invasion.
A Russian diplomatic source told the Interfax news agency there had been no choice but to cancel the visit.
“Russian diplomacy has not yet learned how to teleport,” the source said.
The chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian parliament’s upper house, Konstantin Kosachev, suggested NATO was pressuring the three countries.
“We are talking about a NATO demarche, and without the United States it could not have happened,” Kosachev said on Telegram.
He accused NATO of “direct intervention” in bilateral ties between Russia and Serbia, and of “trying to seize and subjugate the rest of Europe”.
Atanas Atanasov, co-chairman of the right-wing Democratic Bulgaria, which is part of the ruling coalition, told public BNT television on Monday morning: “These are part of the measures that the free world places on Russia and they should continue.
“These things reflect on the activity of the Russian state and this is the aim of the measures that are put in place.”
Lavrov had been due to meet President Aleksandar Vucic, his counterpart Nikola Selakovic and Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Porfirije.
While Serbia has condemned Russia’s military action in Ukraine, it has not joined the European Union in imposing sanctions in Moscow, despite its bid to join the bloc.
The two countries enjoy longstanding close ties and Belgrade recently signed a new three-year contract to receive Russian natural gas.