Wednesday

17th Jan 2018

Macedonia sticks with EU despite Russian offer

  • Skopje: Russian ambassador made Gruevski an offer, The Times reported (Photo: Dan)

Macedonia appears to have turned the corner on a political crisis that recently saw thugs storm parliament and beat up MPs.

Gjorge Ivanov, its president, gave opposition leader Zoran Zaev the legal mandate to form a coalition government with two ethnic Albanian parties on Wednesday (17 May).

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  • Gruevski should be in jail, wiretaps indicated (Photo: epp.eu)

“The obstacles for awarding the mandate for a new Macedonian government have been removed”, Ivanov said on TV.

In return, Zaev, who still had a nasty head wound from last month’s parliament attack, dropped his plan to make Albanian an official language and pledged to protect Macedonia’s “constitutional order and territorial integrity”.

Ivanov, who is an ally of Macedonia’s former leader, Nikola Gruevski, had previously withheld the mandate on grounds that Gruevski’s party had won the most seats in December's elections even though Gruevski could not form a majority.

He changed his mind on Wednesday amid a tug-of-war between the West and Russia over the future of the Western Balkan region.

The EU, the US, and Nato welcomed Ivanov’s decision.

“We hope that this constructive spirit will continue to prevail”, the EU foreign service and the European Commission said in a statement on Wednesday.

Nato head Jens Stoltenberg urged Macedonian leaders to “advance the country's Euro-Atlantic aspirations”.

Russia had not commented on Ivanov’s U-turn as of Thursday morning, but the development represented a setback for the Kremlin's attempt to pull Macedonia into its sphere of influence.

The Russian ambassador in Skopje, Oleg Shcherbak, recently told Gruevski in behind-closed-doors meetings that he should switch allegiance from the West to Russia in return for Kremlin support, according to The Times, a British newspaper.

Macedonia cannot “survive without Russia”, Shcherbak reportedly said.

Russia’s ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said in Brussels earlier this month that Macedonia should hold new elections and claimed that previous EU appeals for Ivanov to grant Zaev the mandate were divisive and unconstitutional.

The political crisis erupted two years ago when Zaev published wiretaps on the then prime minister Gruevski that indicated Gruevski was guilty of corruption and should go to jail.

Parts of former Yugoslavia - Croatia and Slovenia - are already EU and Nato members. Albania is also a Nato member.

Montenegro is due to join Nato at a summit in Brussels next week, after a failed coup, widely blamed on Russian intelligence, last year tried to stop that from happening.

Macedonia is also in line to join, but its aspirations are being held back by Greece, which says Macedonia should first change its name because there is a Greek region that has the same name.

Ethnic Albanians account for one in four Macedonian citizens. The country narrowly avoided a civil war in 2001 with the help of EU and Nato diplomacy.

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