AFP: Mattis in Macedonia to counter 'Russian influence' against name change17 September 2018 | 13:12 | FOCUS News Agency
On September 30, Macedonians will vote on whether to change the country's name to the Republic of North Macedonia, which would open the door to NATO and EU membership.
The planned vote follows a landmark deal on the change signed by Athens and Skopje in June in a bid to break a stalemate that has poisoned their relations since 1991 and hobbled Macedonia's integration with the West.
Greece objected to its neighbour being called Macedonia because it has its own province of the same name.
It had accused Skopje of territorial ambitions and blocked the Balkan country from joining NATO or starting EU accession talks.
"I think to the people whose lives can be changed by economic opportunities, by security among... 30 democratic nations, I think it's very important that they have those options available," Mattis said on the plane taking him to Skopje.
But "this is a decision for our Macedonian friends. And however they go, you know that we are going to live by it."
Mattis is to meet with his Macedonian counterpart Ludmila Sekerinska and with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who struck the name-change deal with Greece.
He will also hold talks with President Gjorge Ivanov, close to the rightist nationalists and an opponent of the deal.
Washington accuses Russia, which opposes NATO enlargement in eastern Europe and the Balkans, of leading a disinformation campaign in Macedonia through social media to discourage voters from taking part.
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