Russian President Vladimir Putin alleged that the United States is destabilizing the Balkans by "asserting their dominant role" in the region, according to interviews published in Serbian newspapers.
Putin made the comments to Serbia's Vecernje Novosti and Politika newspapers, published on January 15, ahead of his scheduled visit later this week. The comments were also published on the Kremlin's website.
Putin's comments underscore Moscow's historically close relations with Serbia, as well as Moscow’s wariness over Western influence. They also contrast with warnings in Washington and some of its European allies about Russia trying to destabilize the region, including in Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia.
In the interviews, Putin recalled NATO's 1999 bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo war, as well as Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008.
That declaration was condemned by Serbia and Russia but embraced by Western countries.
"As far as the situation in the Balkans is concerned, the policy of the United States and some other Western nations aimed at asserting their dominant role remains a serious destabilizing factor here," Putin was quoted as saying.
He also asserted that Montenegro had been “dragged into NATO membership.”
"As a result, the country is now going through a period of political instability," Putin was quoted as saying.
Montenegro, along with the United States and other countries, have accused Russia of backing an attempted coup in the country in 2016, as the country moved toward NATO membership. The Montenegrin parliament voted unanimously in April 2017 to join the alliance.
"We have also repeatedly said that we viewed the policy of NATO expansion as a remnant of the Cold War and an erroneous and destructive military and political strategy," Putin was quoted as saying.
Putin's visit to Serbia is being closely watched in the West for clues as to Moscow's intentions in the former Yugoslavia.
Aside from Montenegro, Moscow has allegedly sought to sway public opinion in Macedonia, where the country is on the verge of a historic agreement with Greece that would pave the way for membership in NATO and the European Union.
Analysts say the highlight of Putin's one-day visit will be a trip to the biggest Orthodox Christian temple in the Balkans: St. Sava in Belgrade.
Putin and his host, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, are scheduled to address thousands outside St. Sava "in a symbol of brotherly ties," organizers of the event said.
Putin's visit is set to begin January 17.
Ahead of Serbia Visit, Putin Asserts U.S. Role In Destabilizing Balkans