A Greek diplomatic source said on Wednesday two Russian diplomats suspected of meddling in the politically sensitive issue of Macedonia would be expelled.
The source said Athens would expel the two diplomats and bar two other Russian nationals from entering Greece over concerns that they helped rallies in the country against a government deal with Macedonia recognizing the former Yugoslavia republic’s use of the name Macedonia, which could apparently be a territorial claim over a northern Greek province also called Macedonia, Presstv Reported.
The source said the four individuals had also attempted to bribe Greek officials over the case. The source said the diplomats had been asked to leave Greece by July 6 and that Moscow had been informed of Athens’ concerns over the case.
“These expulsions are justified because they concern illegal activities at the expense of our national security,” said the source, adding that the diplomats were given a “reasonable period” of a few days to pack their bags.
Russian authorities said they would respond in kind. Andrei Klimov, a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament, said without elaborating that Moscow would expel two Greek diplomats in response.
The Greek source said, however, that Russia’s decision to retaliate was not justified. “ ... the warnings of expulsions from the Russian side are unjustified because our (diplomats) act within the limits of their duties,” said the source.
The diplomatic row comes after the Greek government agreed to a landmark deal with Macedonia to allow the country open talks to join the European Union and NATO by changing its name to the Republic of North Macedonia. Athens had long opposed Skokie’s membership in those organizations.
Russia has always been a strong opponent of NATO’s eastward expansion.
On Wednesday, NATO invited Macedonia to start talks to join the alliance as the organization opened a summit in its new headquarters in the Belgian capital, Brussels.
“NATO's door is and will remain open: we agreed to invite the government in Skopje to start accession talks. Once all national procedures have been completed to finalize the name agreement, the country will join NATO as our 30th member," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.