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McCain calls for permanent US troops in Baltics
by Staff Writers
Vilnius (AFP) Dec 29, 2016

Republican Senator John McCain on Thursday called for US troops to be permanently stationed in the Baltic states as a deterrent against Russia amid regional concerns over President-elect Donald Trump's pro-Moscow rhetoric.

"I think that permanency is important, that there will always be some American troops here," McCain told reporters in Lithuania, an EU and NATO member bordering Russia's highly militarised Kaliningrad exclave.

"Maintaining that presence is necessary to make sure that our friends here understand the United States is always with them," he added, wrapping up a three-day tour of the Baltics with fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democrat Amy Klobuchar.

Mentioning Trump's pick for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, McCain expressed concern over his "relationship with (Russian president) Vladimir Putin" but said he will be given an "opportunity to make his case about why he is qualified".

McCain and Graham also called for increased sanctions against Russia over its cyber-meddling in the US election.

"I think the sanctions need to go beyond what it is today, they need to name Putin as an individual and his inner circle because nothing happens in Russia without his knowledge and approval," Graham said.

The US deployed around 150 troops in each of the Baltic states and Poland in 2014 after tensions in the region flared over Russia's annexation of Crimea.

The outgoing administration also pledged to deploy an additional armoured brigade in eastern Europe from early next year on a rotational basis.

Linas Kojala, who heads the Vilnius-based Eastern Europe Studies Centre, said the senators' visit was reassuring after Trump's "worrisome" comments.

"For the Baltics, NATO and the presence of American soldiers in the region are key factors which distinguish us from war-torn Ukraine," he told AFP.

Macedonia president lashes out at 'irresponsible' EU, NATO
Skopje (AFP) Dec 29, 2016 - Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov on Thursday lashed out at the European Union and NATO over his country's stalled membership bids, calling them "irresponsible" and linking them to the country's political crisis.

In 2008, Greece vetoed Macedonia's NATO membership and it has blocked negotiations on EU accession ever since the country became a candidate in 2005 over a long-running name row.

"In 2008, we were on the threshold of NATO membership. In 2009 we received the first positive report and recommendation to start negotiations with the European Union," Ivanov said in an annual address to the nation.

"In such circumstances, the institutions, responsibly and rapidly, were implementing reforms... and the citizens lived with the expectation that the European future was at hand. And then, at the height of our efforts, expectations and optimism, we were bitterly disappointed," he added.

Macedonia has been in a deep political crisis for almost two years after a mass wiretapping scandal erupted and sparked street protests, prompting the EU to step in.

In his speech Ivanov urged the EU "to stop blocking our future" and partly blamed the bloc and NATO for the country's current political difficulties.

"Instead of a date for negotiations, we were blocked. Instead of membership in NATO, we were ignored. Instead of being rewarded, we were punished.

"The irresponsible behaviour of the European Union and NATO towards Macedonia is inevitably reflected in our internal policies. The reform momentum is lost, the relations between the political parties is tense," the president said.

As part of an EU-brokered deal between Macedonia's four main political parties, December 11 snap elections were narrowly won by the ruling conservative VMRO-DPMNE party of former prime minister Nikola Gruevski.

However, as Gruevski's party will have 51 MPs in the 120-seat strong parliament, only two MPs more than the main opposition Social-Democrats (SDSM), it is as yet unclear who will be the kingmaker.

The new parliament is to convene on Friday and Ivanov is expected to appoint a prime minister designate by January 9.

Macedonia's official name at the United Nations is the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM as a result of the 25-year-long row with neighbouring Greece, whose northern province bears the same name.

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