Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's team accused Vice President Mike Pence of stoking a "primitive" fear of the Kremlin in eastern Europe, after the vice president condemned President Vladimir Putin's use of force in the region.
"Pence made another series of anti-Russian statements in Podgorica, scaring leaders of Western Balkan states with a mythic ‘Russian threat,' " the Russian Foreign Ministry said late Thursday.
Pence, while traveling for a summit hosted by new NATO member Montenegro, faulted Russia for "seek[ing] to redraw international borders by force." Moscow noted that Russia annexed Crimea and sent special forces to eastern Ukraine at the request of the ethnic Russians in the region.
"We have to state with regret that Washington is sliding more deeply into using primitive ideology-driven clichés of the Cold War era, which are totally out of touch with reality," the Foreign Ministry said.
Pence was speaking at the Adriatic Charter Summit, a gathering of leaders from the western Balkans. The host country, Montenegro, joined NATO in June. The accession to NATO was controversial among Montenegrins and Russia opposed the move, to the point of backing a coup against the nation's pro-Western leadership, according to authorities.
"Russia's intentions were laid bare over the past year when Moscow-backed agents sought to disrupt Montenegro's elections, attack your parliament and even attempt to assassinate your prime minister to dissuade the Montenegrin people from entering our NATO alliance," Pence said. "The United States of America rejects any attempt to use force, threats or intimidation in this region or beyond. The Western Balkans have the right to decide your own future, and that is your right alone."
Russia countered that the United States is forcing eastern Europe into "a blatantly destructive choice of being ‘either with the West or with Russia,' " and inducing their neighbors to join NATO.
"We urge our American colleagues to stop demonising Russia and its foreign policy, which has always been based on respect for partners, readiness for joint constructive work, and mutual consideration of interests," the Foreign Ministry said.