Wednesday

20th Feb 2019

Nato to add Macedonia despite Putin warning

  • Macedonian foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov (l) with Nato ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday (Photo: nato.int)

Macedonia is on its way to join Nato next year despite Russian opposition.

The prospect comes after Nato states' ambassadors signed an accession protocol with Macedonia's foreign minister in Brussels on Wednesday (6 February).

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  • Nato last took in Montenegro in 2017 (Photo: nato.it)

"I really look forward to seeing 30 allied flags fly outside Nato headquarters," Nato head Jens Stoltenberg said.

"Once all allies have ratified the protocol, Skopje will become the 30th member of the alliance," he added.

"For us, Nato is about making the world more peaceful, more stable," Macedonian foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov said.

Visitors to the Nato HQ in Kabul were already used to seeing "the [Macedonian] flag on our soldiers there", he added, because Macedonian forces guarded the Nato compound.

"For many years, Macedonia has provided valuable support to Nato-led operations and missions," US Nato envoy Kay Bailey Hutchison said on Wednesday.

"By working together, we will be stronger and safer," Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders added on Twitter.

"One for all and all for one," Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius said, evoking Article V of the Nato treaty on mutual defence.

The ratification process was likely to take about a year, Nato's Stoltenberg noted.

"I am very confident that ratification will ... take place in a smooth way. We don't expect any surprises," he said.

The Greek parliament is to start the ball rolling with a ratification vote on Friday.

But the developments come amid a Russian push-back in the Western Balkans.

Nato was a "destructive ... Cold War relic" that "refused to listen to what [Russia] said in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s, [and] will not listen to Russia in the 2020s," Konstantin Kosachev, a Russian senator said on Wednesday.

"The policy of the United States and certain Western countries aimed to foster their dominance in the region [the Western Balkans] constitutes a major destabilising factor," Russian president Vladimir Putin also said on a visit to Serbia in January.

Macedonia took the Nato step after formally renaming itself North Macedonia in a deal with Greece.

But Putin egged on Macedonian nationalists to oppose the process.

"Last year, the process of ... revision of fundamentals of Macedonian national identity was launched in the Republic of Macedonia for the purpose of accelerating its inclusion in Nato," he added in Belgrade.

Nato is also forging closer ties with two former Soviet republics who want to join - Georgia and Ukraine.

"We are very encouraged by what we see in Georgia," Stoltenberg said on Wednesday.

The Macedonia protocol "shows that Nato's door remains open for countries that meet Nato standards and that adhere to the Nato values of democracy, the rule of law, and individual liberty," he added.

Stoltenberg's prior remark on Macedonia "surprises" comes amid accusations of Russian dirty tricks, however.

A Russian billionaire living in Greece, Ivan Savvidi, paid at least €300,000 to subversive groups in Macedonia to obstruct the Greek name deal, according to documents seen by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a consortium of investigative journalists.

There was "no doubt that they [Russia] have transferred money and they are also conducting broader influence campaigns," the then US defence chief, James Mattis, said in Skopje at the time.

Athens also expelled two Russian diplomats last September on similar grounds.

Montenegro's foreign minister, Srdan Darmanovic, said on Wednesday that he welcomed Macedonia to Nato "as an ally and a friend".

"It would bring more stability and security to our region," Darmanovic added, amid an ongoing trial of suspects in what Nato has said was a failed Russian coup in Podgorice in 2016.

Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot

Authorities in Budapest confirmed the former prime minister of Macedonia, fleeing a jail sentence in his own country, has filed for asylum. Despite Hungary's strict asylum laws, the pro-Kremlin politician was not turned away.

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