US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis landed at the Skopje International Airport this morning and was welcomed by Defense Minister Radmila Sekerinska and US Ambassador Jess Bailey.
According to the announced agenda, Mattis is expected to meet Radmila Sekerinska, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and President Gjorge Ivanov today.
Yesterday, Eric Pahon, a spokesman for the Pentagon said that Mattis will urge Macedonian citizens to vote in the referendum and will also emphasize the five million dollars provided annually by the United States for security support.
“Russia seeks to convince the Macedonians that the West is going to abandon them, that Russia is the stable influence in the region. That is just not true. Changing Macedonia’s name and bringing the country into the alliance, would reduce Moscow’s influence. Macedonian accession to NATO is one of Russia’s worst nightmares,” Pahon told the New York Times.
The article by the American newspaper on Mattis’s visit quotes various Western diplomats, who say 40 new sites appear daily on Facebook to encourage people to boycott the referendum. These sites, which originate outside the country, fit into the pattern of Russian influence seen in other elections, say diplomats.
When Mattis announced the visit to Macedonia last week, he said he is coming to support Macedonia ahead of the upcoming referendum on the name and EU and NATO membership, but also to express concerns over possible Russian interference in the vote.
“It worries me … That kind of hardship that Russia is practicing from Estonia to the United States, from Ukraine and now to Macedonia, always adapts to a specific situation and has always been unacceptable,” said Mattis, when announcing the visit.