Officials from Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo have refuted claims by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that mercenaries are being sent from the three countries to Ukraine, amid speculation about an imminent Russian invasion.
Lavrov said in an interview with RT television, which was published on the ministry’s website on February 18, that Moscow is double checking reports that mercenaries are being sent from the three Western Balkan countries to Donbas.
“There’s information that mercenaries are being recruited in Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia & Herzegovina to knock Russia out of balance and send them to places including Donbas,” he said, TASS reported. “We are now double checking that,” he added.
He went on to criticise the situation in the region, adding: ”It is far from prosperous … Kosovo and some other parts of the Western Balkans are becoming a breeding ground for crime. There are terrorists and drug dealers there."
Blerim Vela, head of the Kosovo president's office, dismissed the comments on Twitter as "fake news". "Fake news alert! #Russia's FM Lavrov false accusation that #Kosovo is providing mercenaries to Donbass is part and parcel of disinfo campaign that seeks to justify military aggression against #Ukraine. Kosovo stands with its allies and Ukraine in defending freedom and democracy,” Vela wrote.
Lavrov’s comments were published the day after Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani condemned Russia’s “open threat to invade Ukraine” saying that this “aggressive course” is also destabilising the Balkan region.
“Today, Kosovo, the region, and the whole globe are facing dangers caused by Russia's aggressive course. Its destabilising tendencies, through the use of its traditional ally, Serbia, aim to cause destabilisation in the Balkan region as well,” Osmani said in her speech in the parliament on February 17, to mark the country’s Independence Day.
Osmani said that Kosovo stands strongly on the side of its Western allies.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but it is still not recognised as a separate country by Belgrade, or by Serbia's biggest allies, Russia and China.
In Albania Pandeli Majko, a member of the ruling Socialist Party and former prime minister, said the comments were “unprecedented”.
“Sergei Lavrov, foreign minister of the Russian Federation, has made an unprecedented statement today about Albanian “mercenaries” from Albania and Kosovo who are being sent to the Donbas area in Ukraine,” he wrote on Facebook.
Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic also commented on social media, writing on her Facebook page: “We will send an official inquiry to the Russian Embassy in Sarajevo regarding this statement. If Mr. Lavrov has any information about such activities in BiH, I hope that he shared it with our security services even before he made it public.”
She added in a pointed comment: “Officials should only disclose verified information to the public. Especially when it comes to other countries and especially when it comes to security or stability.”