NATO official: Western Balkans face ‘no imminent threat’

July 7, 2022 GMT
NATO's Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana reacts during an interview with The Associated Press in Kosovo's capital Pristina, Thursday, July 7, 2022. Geoana on Thursday said Western Balkan countries don't face an “imminent threat” from the war in Ukraine, and are of strategic interest to the Western alliance. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
NATO's Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana reacts during an interview with The Associated Press in Kosovo's capital Pristina, Thursday, July 7, 2022. Geoana on Thursday said Western Balkan countries don't face an “imminent threat” from the war in Ukraine, and are of strategic interest to the Western alliance. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
NATO's Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana reacts during an interview with The Associated Press in Kosovo's capital Pristina, Thursday, July 7, 2022. Geoana on Thursday said Western Balkan countries don't face an “imminent threat” from the war in Ukraine, and are of strategic interest to the Western alliance. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
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NATO's Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana reacts during an interview with The Associated Press in Kosovo's capital Pristina, Thursday, July 7, 2022. Geoana on Thursday said Western Balkan countries don't face an “imminent threat” from the war in Ukraine, and are of strategic interest to the Western alliance. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
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NATO's Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana reacts during an interview with The Associated Press in Kosovo's capital Pristina, Thursday, July 7, 2022. Geoana on Thursday said Western Balkan countries don't face an “imminent threat” from the war in Ukraine, and are of strategic interest to the Western alliance. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — A NATO senior official on Thursday said Western Balkan countries don’t face an “imminent threat” from the war in Ukraine, and are of strategic interest to the Western alliance.

NATO’s Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana was in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, to meet with local officials and visit the NATO-led KFOR mission.

Geoana denounced Russia’s “illogical and brutal war” in Ukraine and its “aggressive and malign influence over the Western Balkans.”

“We have a strategic interest ... in the Western Balkans. I want to send a message of hope for all the people to the Western Balkans that ultimately all of us will find ourselves in the European and Euro-Atlantic family,” he told The Associated Press.

Some Western Balkan countries are NATO members — Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia — while Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina are partners.

Kosovo has said it will apply for the Partnership for Peace membership, considered a first step in the NATO membership process.

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NATO troops have been present in Kosovo since 1999 after a war between Serbia and its former province which ended with a 78-day NATO air campaign.

Geoana hailed NATO members in the region that have increased defense spending as “a natural reaction when you see aggressive Russia,” adding that NATO would “defend all allies and every square inch of territory.”

Geoana reconfirmed the alliance’s pledge to “stand by Ukraine for the long haul.”

“They deserve our help. And that great nation deserves to be a free, independent, sovereign nation in Europe,” he said.

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Semini reported from Tirana, Albania