Russia's foreign minister criticizes West's policies in Balkans

Just hours before an explosion at the U.S. Embassy in Montenegro, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized Western policies toward his country, urging European countries to maintain good relations with Moscow despite the Russia-West divisions.

Lavrov said Wednesday during a visit to Slovenia that being a member of NATO or the European Union "does not mean it is necessary to avoid contacts with states that are not included in those international organizations," like Russia.

Lavrov visited EU member Slovenia before proceeding to Serbia, an EU hopeful that remains a rare ally of Moscow in the region where Russia wants to maintain its traditional influence.

In a joint opinion piece with Serbia's Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, Lavrov wrote that policies of "'either with us or against us' have fueled mistrust and instability on the European continent."

The European Union has mapped a strategy for making Serbia and Montenegro members of the bloc by 2025, the website of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty reported.

But Serbia has maintained close ties with Moscow and has opposed EU sanctions against Russia that were imposed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the report said.

In a Feb. 19 interview with Serbia's Beta news agency, Lavrov claimed that "anti-Russia" nations were pressuring Balkan countries to choose between the West and Russia.

"Washington and some European capitals send their emissaries to the Balkans for this exact purpose: Don't be friends with Russia, refuse joint interaction with it in all areas," Lavrov said, adding that Western policies were "increasing tensions in Europe."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.