Authorities in Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina have hit back at claims made by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that they are sending “mercenaries” to fight against a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.
On Friday, Lavrov said Russian authorities are working to verify information regarding mercenaries being sent to Ukraine from Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia.
“Kosovo and some other parts of the Western Balkans are becoming a hotbed of crime. There are terrorists, drug dealers. Mercenaries are recruited there for military conflicts ignited by the US, among others,” Lavrov said.
“There is information that militants from Kosovo, Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina are being recruited to knock Russia off balance, which includes sending them to [eastern Ukraine],” he added.
Lavrov also said that mercenaries have long been recruited in the Western Balkans to take part in conflicts stoked by other countries, including the United States.
The chief of staff to the President of Kosovo dismissed Lavrov’s comments as “fake news.”
“Russian FM Lavrov’s false accusation that Kosovo is providing mercenaries to Donbass is part and parcel of a disinformation campaign that seeks to justify military aggression against Ukraine,” Blerim Vela wrote on Twitter, “Kosovo stands with its allies and Ukraine in defending freedom and democracy.”
In Albania, former Prime Minister and ruling Socialist MP Pandeli Majko described the comments as “unprecedented.”
Bosnia’s Security Minister told reporters that no Bosnian citizen had gone to fight alongside Ukrainian forces, as per currently available data.
“We will send an official inquiry to Russia’s embassy in Sarajevo about this statement,” Bosnia’s Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic said of the accusations, “If Lavrov has some information [mercenaries] in Bosnia, I hope that, before revealing it, he shares them with our security services.”
Some 150,000 Russian troops are currently positioned within reach of Ukraine’s borders. Though Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied any plans to attack Ukraine, he has also threatened “appropriate retaliatory military-technical measures” if certain “security guarantees” are not met.
US President Joe Biden warned on Friday that he believed an attack was imminent. A US defense official told the BBC that up to half of Russian troops close to Ukraine’s borders are already in an attack position.
Ukraine shares borders with the EU and Russia, retaining close social and cultural ties to Russia as a former Soviet republic. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and supported a conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
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