Diplomatic row over Macedonia further damages relations between Moscow, Athens

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Greece on Friday said Russian expulsions of Greek diplomats were "arbitrary" and not based on evidence, after a similar move by Athens last month. "The Russian side's decision is arbitrary, retaliatory and not based on any evidence," the Greek foreign ministry said in a statement, as reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"We want to remind our Russian friends that no country in the world would tolerate attempts to a) bribe state officials, b) undermine its foreign policy and c) interfere in its internal affairs," Athens said.

Greece in July expelled two Russian diplomats and banned two Russian citizens from entering the country over allegations of meddling with its relations with Macedonia. At the time, Greek ERT1 public television channel said Athens accused the Russians of trying to stir protests against a recent agreement with Skopje on a new official name for Macedonia.

The Greek foreign ministry on Friday said Russia was "fighting as a comrade in arms with Turkey, providing it with a number of facilitations in the security sector" and that "it appears to be steadily distancing itself from positions befitting the level of friendship and cooperation that has characterized Greek-Russian relations for the past 190 years."

Greece said in July it had expelled two Russian diplomats and barred two other people from entering the country for trying to bribe officials and foment demonstrations to thwart a deal to allow Macedonia to join NATO. The Greek ERT1 public television channel said Athens accuses the Russians of trying to stir protests against a recent agreement with Skopje on a new official name for Macedonia. Russia flatly denied the allegations.

The Macedonia issue is sensitive in Greece, where political stability is pivotal as the country emerges from a huge debt crisis. Athens and Skopje signed an accord last month to resolve the decades-long dispute over the Balkan state's use of the name Macedonia, which is also the name of a northern Greek province. The two nations came to an agreement to call the country the Republic of North Macedonia. Approved by the parliament in Skopje, it will next be put to a referendum. Macedonia's Parliament set Sept. 30 as the date for a referendum on changing the country's name to the Republic of North Macedonia, a high-stakes vote aimed at resolving a long-running row with Greece and clearing the path to join NATO and the EU. After the deal was struck between Greek and Macedonian leaders in June, NATO said Macedonia would be eligible to join the alliance if its new name is finalized.

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