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Mattis to visit Macedonia over Russian ‘mischief’

Reuters WASHINGTON (Reuters) — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday he would visit Macedonia before a Sept. 30 referendum on changing the country’s name, also expressing concern about suspected Russian interference in the vote, which Moscow denies.

Macedonia scheduled the referendum on the government’s deal in June with neighboring Greece to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia which would open the door for it to join NATO and the European Union.

“I am concerned about it ... The kind of mischief that Russia has practiced from Estonia to the United States, from Ukraine and now to Macedonia, it always has adapted to the specific situation and it’s always beyond the pale,” Mattis, who will visit Macedonia over the weekend, told reporters.

Mattis said he wanted to make it clear the United States supported the Macedonian people.

NATO invited Macedonia to begin accession talks with the alliance, but said it would have to change its Constitution and adopt the new name first. The EU has also said it would set a date for Macedonian accession talks pending implementation of the name deal.

Moscow’s ambassador to Skopje has criticized Macedonia’s ambitions to join NATO, saying it could become “a legitimate target” if relations between NATO and Russia deteriorate further.Speech

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