The leaders of several Balkan countries gathered in the Greek capital on Monday along with top European Union officials to discuss the region’s European future.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis hosted an informal dinner Monday evening in Athens for the top officials from nine Balkan nations as well as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council head Charles Michel.
Greek media reports that the dinner would also be attended by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy were not officially confirmed.
Zelenskyy was in Denmark earlier Monday, where he thanked Danish lawmakers for helping his country resist Russia’s invasion, a day after Denmark and the Netherlands announced they will provide Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets.
The dinner was being hosted on the 20th anniversary of a summit between the European Union and western Balkan countries in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki as Balkan states sought to join the European bloc.
The presidents of Serbia, Montenegro and Moldova, the prime ministers of North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania, and the head of the council of ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina were to attend the dinner, while Mitsotakis was also meeting several of them individually on Monday and Tuesday.
A notable absence was Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. Relations between Greece and its northwestern neighbor have soured over the jailing of ethnic Greek minority leader Fredi Beleri, who was arrested before local elections in May on vote-buying allegations.
Beleri was elected mayor of the southwestern Albanian town of Himara despite being in pre-trial detention. Athens has insisted his detention is politically motivated and has called for his release.
“I believe we all understand that it was not possible to invite Mr. Rama to such an important initiative,” Greek government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said during a press briefing when asked about the Albanian prime minister's absence from Monday's event.
“When we say that Albania's European path passes through the basic respect of European rules and the rules of justice, we mean it,” he added, noting that Albanian President Bajram Begaj had been invited to attend but had declined.