SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov faced Western critics while attending international security talks Thursday in Northern Macedonia, where he blamed “NATO’s reckless expansion to the East” for war returning to Europe.

Lavrov arrived in Skopje to attend meetings hosted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The diplomats of several OSCE member nations, including Ukraine, boycotted the event due to Lavrov’s planned attendance amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The Russian foreign minister spoke for 15 minutes before walking out of the meetings. He blamed what he described as Western tolerance of the “ruling neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv” for the war that started with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

“The very existence of Russians and their decisive contribution to the history of Ukraine are denied,” Lavrov said. “There are plenty of facts. The OSCE and its relevant institutions are silent.”

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly alleged that Ukraine’s government is made up of “neo-Nazis,” even though the country has a democratically elected Jewish president who lost relatives in the Holocaust.

Putin and other Russian officials have invoked the Holocaust, World War II and Nazism to legitimize the invasion of Ukraine. Historians see their rhetoric as disinformation and a cynical ploy.

Western ministers attending the OSCE meeting were sharply critical of Lavrov after he spoke.

Russia’s attempts to blame others for its own choices are transparent,” said Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who was speaking when Lavrov walked out.

“We will not compromise on the core principles of the European security order or allow Russia to deny Ukraine the right to make its own independent foreign and security policy choices – principles that Russia itself has agreed to,” he continued.

Based in Vienna, Austria, the OSCE is an intergovernmental organization focused on promoting security, stability, and cooperation among its participating states.

NATO member North Macedonia lifted a ban on Russian flights to enable Lavrov to attend the meeting. Russian state news agency Tass reported that the minister flew a longer route over Turkey and Greece to reach the summit after Bulgaria blocked his plane from using its airspace.

Greek officials did not immediately return a request for comment.

The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had said they would not attend the talks due to Lavrov’s participation.

The Russian minister arrived in Skopje hours after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a brief stop in North Macedonia’s capital late Wednesday.

James O’Brien, a U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, attended the event Thursday and accused Russia of trying to undermine the work of the OSCE.

“I add my voice to those of my colleagues calling to Russia to stop its violations of the basic principles of the organization, but I’m not sure that they are … willing to listen,” O’Brien said.

North Macedonia’s foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, said the OSCE had endured as an organization despite Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

“War undermines trust, dialogue and our capacity to deliver. Above all, it devastates the lives of ordinarily people,” Osmani said while hosting Thursday’s meetings.

___ Gatopoulos reported from Athens.

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