Monday

26th Jun 2017

EU and Russia step into Macedonia crisis

  • Street protests in Skopje turned violent when two reporters were attacked (Photo: Juan Antonio F. Segal)

Macedonia has become the latest theatre in a tug-of-war between the West and Russia over the future of the Western Balkans.

With street protests in Skopje and a constitutional crisis over the results of a recent election, Nato, the US, the EU, and the Russian foreign ministry issued contradictory statements on Thursday (2 March).

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Macedonian former leader Gruevski (r) set to lose power after 11 years (Photo: European Commission)

The Western bloc urged Macedonian president Gjorge Ivanov to allow a new coalition of ethnic Macedonian and ethnic Albanian parties take power because they had a majority of 67 out of 120 seats in parliament.

“[We must] avoid that this political and institutional crisis becomes an inter-ethnic conflict or, even worse, a geopolitical one,” EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said after meeting Ivanov in Skopje on Thursday.

She urged him to “reverse his decision”, adding that “instead of democratic rules, chaos prevails today”.

Nato head Jens Stoltenberg and the US ambassador to Macedonia, Jess L. Baily, echoed her views.

“I look to the authorities in Skopje to fulfil the next step in the democratic process,” Stoltenberg said.

Baily, who also met Ivanov, said his decision was “inconsistent with basic democratic principles and the rule of law which are core values of Nato.”

The Russian foreign ministry said on Thursday that EU and Nato had caused the crisis and that they endorsed the creation of a “Greater Albania” in the region.

“The political crisis in Macedonia [was] provoked by the gross external interference in the country’s internal affairs,” Russia said.

“Attempts, which are actively supported by EU and Nato leaders, are being made to make Macedonians accept the ‘Albanian platform’ designed in Tirana in the prime minister’s office based on the map of the so-called Greater Albania, which illustrates its territorial claims to vast regions in neighbouring Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece,” it said.

The reference to Albania's leader Edia Rama comes after he held a meeting with Macedonian Albanian parties in December and called for the Albanian language to get official status in Skopje.

The new `Macedonian-Albanian coalition that Ivanov rejected included the official language move as part of its programme.

Russia’s propaganda outlet, Sputnik, on Thursday also ran an inflammatory story entitled: “Nato willing to see ‘blood in streets of Macedonia' for Greater Albania project”.

The street protests in Skopje began on Tuesday.

Some 15,000 supporters of former Macedonian prime minister Nikolai Gruevski and his VMRO-DPMNE party, which stands to lose power after 11 years in office, chanted anti-Albanian and anti-EU slogans such as: “EU hands off Macedonia”.

VMRO-DPMNE won the most seats in the election (51 out of 120), but the party, which is embroiled in a corruption scandal, failed to build a coalition with a majority.

Macedonia is home to some 500,000 ethnic Albanians who make up 25 percent of the population.

The country witnessed a brief civil war in 2001 which ended in the Ohrid Agreement, a Western-backed deal that give ethnic Albanians greater rights.

Montenegro coup

Mogherini had also visited Podgorice on Wednesday.

Montenegro prosecutors are preparing to indict Eduard Shishmakov, an alleged Russian spy, for plotting a failed coup last year that was designed to stop the country from joining Nato in May.

“The European Union door is open, not only that, but that we want you to cross that door and enter,” Mogherini said.

The EU envoy travelled to Belgrade on Friday and aims to go to Sarajevo and Pristina on Saturday.

Russia is also trying to pull Belgrade back into its sphere of influence, with a recent arms deal ahead of elections that could see its pro-Russian nationalist president, Tomislav Nikolic, remain in office.

The Russian foreign ministry said in its statement on Thursday that the EU’s support for Kosovo’s independence was part of the same Greater Albania “scam”.

Bosnia meeting

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov also met with Miroslav Dodik in Bosnia on Thursday.

Dodik, the pro-Russian president of Republika Srpska, the Serb entity in the Bosnian federation, has threatened to call a referendum on secession.

But Lavrov accused “the West” of trying to overturn the Dayton Agreement, the 1995 peace accord that ended the ethnic conflict in the country.

“Of course, the recent attempts to review these principles cause concern. We know that some of our Western counterparts either turn a blind eye to these attempts or openly support them,” he said, without giving details on what he meant.

EU extends sanctions on Russia

German chancellor Angela Merkel said that Russia hadn't done enough to implement the so-called Minsk peace process, a condition for lifting the sanctions.

Interview

EU visa waiver unlikely to import Ukraine crime

Visa-free travel, which began last week, unlikely to prompt a Ukrainian crime wave, an EU police expert has said, but Ukraine itself is seeing increases in lawlessness.

News in Brief

  1. Seasoned finance minister takes over Dutch coalition talks
  2. British PM closes government deal with Northern Irish party
  3. Merkel on collision course with US at G20 summit
  4. Schulz outlines German election strategy, hits out at Merkel
  5. Berlusconi's party sees comeback in Italian local votes
  6. Low turnout in Albanian election set to mandate EU future
  7. Merkel and Macron hold symbolic joint press conference
  8. Juncker has 'no' clear idea of kind of Brexit UK wants

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017Conservation of Atlantic Tunas: International Measures Become EU Law
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan Statin Therapy Interfere With a Physically Active Lifestyle?
  3. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  4. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  5. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  6. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  7. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  8. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  9. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!
  10. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  11. EUSEW17Bringing Buildings Into the Circular Economy. Discuss at EU Sustainable Energy Week
  12. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  2. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move
  3. Dialogue PlatformMuslims Have Unique Responsibility to Fight Terror: Opinon From Fethullah Gülen
  4. EUSEW17Check out This Useful Infographic on How to Stay Sustainable and Energy Efficient.
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Criticises the Juncker Plan's Implementation
  6. UNICEF1 in 5 Children in Rich Countries Lives in Relative Income Poverty, 1 in 8 Faces Food Insecurity
  7. International Partnership for Human Rights26 NGOs Call on Interpol Not to Intervene Versus Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders
  8. Malta EU 2017Significant Boost in Financing for SMEs and Entrepreneurs Under New Agreement
  9. World VisionYoung People Rise up as EU Signs Consensus for Development at EU Development Days
  10. ILGA-EuropeLGBTI Activists and Businesses Fighting Inequality Together
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Prime Ministers Respond to Trump on Paris Agreement