Washington – Sen. Chris Murphy’s message to the Obama administration after a week-long tour of the Balkans: Pay more attention to the region.

“The United States and its allies need to step up right now,” he said.

Murphy returned from visiting Kosovo, Serbia, Croatia, Albania and Montenegro on Monday, the sole lawmaker on a Senate Armed Services Committee delegation trip.

Murphy met recently with members of Connecticut’s Albanian community, and he said they asked him to visit their homeland.

He said that on his first day in Belgrade, Serbia, a riot broke out at a soccer game when a “greater Albania” flag was unfurled. Greater Albania is a concept of lands – including Kosovo  – considered a national homeland by many Albanians based on claims on current or historical presence of Albanian populations in those areas.

Murphy said he complained about the “soccer hooliganism” to Serbian officials.

Muphy said he is concerned Russian President Vladimir Putin “wants to establish some version of the old Soviet Union” by gaining influence over Balkan nations and establishing a military base in Montenegro. He urged the Obama administration to support that country’s membership in NATO.

“If we don’t extend a hand to Montenegro, Russia will,” Murphy said.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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