James Mattis, the US defence secretary, who arrived in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on September 17, accused Russia of trying to meddle in a referendum about the country’s name change. He said there was “no doubt” Moscow had been funding pro-Russian groups in order to defeat the referendum.

“No doubt they have transferred money and they’re also conducting broader influence campaigns,” Mattis said. “We ought to leave the Macedonian people to make up their own minds.”

FYROM will hold a referendum on September 30 to decide on the government’s deal with Greece to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia, which could lead to the Balkan country joining Nato and the EU.

Russia, however, opposes any move towards Nato membership.

As reported by Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, it is not the first time Russia has been accused of meddling. In July, Greece expelled two Russian diplomats and barred two other people from entering the country for allegedly trying to bribe officials and incite protests against the deal.

Mattis is the latest high-profile Western politician to visit Skopje. On September 8, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hoped FYROM citizens would vote for the name change and start accession talks with Nato and the EU.

FRYOM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev is in favour of the name change, while the nationalists and President Gjorge Ivanov oppose it.