MOSCOW — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday he plans to travel to North Macedonia later this week to attend a conference, a trip that would mark his first visit to a NATO member country since that Moscow sent troops to Ukraine.
Russia is one of 57 members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, created during the Cold War to help defuse tensions between East and West. North Macedonia, which holds the group’s rotating presidency, has invited Lavrov to a meeting of OSCE foreign ministers that begins Thursday in Skopje, the capital of the small landlocked Balkan country.
NATO members banned Russian flights after Moscow launched military action in Ukraine in February 2022. To reach North Macedonia, Lavrov’s plane would have to fly over the airspace of Bulgaria or Greece, which also belong to the Western military alliance.
Speaking at a foreign policy conference in Moscow on Monday, Lavrov said Bulgaria had apparently given permission for a flyover.
“It seems that Bulgaria has promised Macedonia to open its airspace,” he said. “If it works, we’ll make it.”
Lavrov said his office had received requests for bilateral meetings from several foreign ministers from other countries who were planning to visit Skopje. “Of course we will meet everyone,” he said.
His deputy, Sergei Ryabkov, told reporters that Lavrov would not meet with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is also expected to attend the OSCE foreign ministers’ meeting.
Lavrov said the security situation in Europe today is more dangerous than it ever was during the Cold War. In the past, he argued, the Soviet Union, the United States and their NATO allies sought to “limit their rivalry with political and diplomatic practices” and never “expressed such serious concerns about their future, their physical future.”
“Now such fears are all too common,” he added.
Lavrov further said that Moscow was not thinking about rebuilding ties with Europe, but rather “protecting us in all key sectors of our economy, our life in general and our security.”
This defiant stance appears to reflect Moscow’s hope that Western support for Ukraine may wane amid upcoming elections in the United States and Europe, the war between Israel and Hamas and the state of the battle where the Ukrainian counter-offensive failed to achieve significant progress.
Lavrov asserted that although some in the West would like to freeze the conflict to give Ukraine time to rearm, “we will think and evaluate all these offers ten times to see to what extent they are in line with our interests and to what extent our European counterparts are reliable.” are.”
“They have damaged their reputation very, very seriously,” Mr. Lavrov said. “Maybe not completely yet.”