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Fury in Moscow over plane closures blocking Lavrov’s trip to Serbia

Moscow on Monday furiously condemned the rejection by several European countries of a request for Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s plane to pass through their airspace, forcing him to cancel a trip to allied Serbia.

“The unthinkable happened,” Lavrov told an online news conference in Moscow.

“It was a deprivation of a sovereign state of the right to conduct a foreign policy.”

Bulgaria, Macedonia and Montenegro refused a request for Russia for Lavrov’s plane to cross their airspace en route to Serbia due to sanctions imposed following Moscow’s military action in Ukraine.

Lavrov was due to meet with senior officials in Belgrade, one of Moscow’s few allies in Europe since the launch of the offensive in late February.

Lavrov called the decision “outrageous”, insisting that Moscow’s relations with Belgrade would not be “destroyed”.

He said Moscow had invited his Serbian counterpart Nikola Selakovic to visit Russia in the near future instead.

The Kremlin also denounced the measures, with President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman calling them “hostile actions”.

“We are convinced that such actions will not be able to prevent our country’s continued contacts, especially with friendly countries,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Lavrov had already been forced to cancel a trip to Geneva for disarmament talks in late February after the European Union closed its airspace to Russian aircraft.

A Russian diplomatic source told the Interfax news agency that there was no choice but to cancel the visit to Serbia.

“Russian diplomacy has not learned how to teleport yet,” the source said.

The chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the upper house of the Russian parliament, Konstantin Kosachev, suggested that NATO was putting pressure on the three countries.

“We are talking about a NATO step, and without the United States this could not have happened,” Kosachev said on Telegram.

He accused NATO of “direct intervention” in bilateral relations between Russia and Serbia, and to “attempt to seize and subjugate the rest of Europe”.

Atanas Atanasov, co-chairman of the right-wing democratic Bulgaria, which is part of the ruling coalition, told BNT public television on Monday: “This is part of the measures that the free world imposes on Russia and they should continue.

“These things reflect Russian state activity and that is the purpose of the measures that are being put in place.”

Lavrov was due to meet President Aleksandar Vucic, Selakovic and Serbian Patriarch Porfirije.

While Serbia has condemned Russia’s military action in Ukraine, it has not joined the European Union to impose sanctions on Moscow, despite its attempt to join the bloc.

The two countries have long-standing close ties and Belgrade recently signed a new three-year contract to receive Russian natural gas.

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