Saturday, 20 October 2018 | News today: 6

EU failure in Balkans is a call to China and Russia, President Ivanov tells UK’s Telegraph

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The European Union is leaving the door open to Chinese and Russian strategic encroachment in the Balkans because of its abject failure to engage and invest in the region, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov has told the Telegraph.

“Until recently, we haven’t seen any Russian investment in Macedonia. But as Europe is withdrawing – or rather not keeping its promises about making the Balkans part of the European Union – it’s like a call from the EU to come and fill in that space,” he warned.

President Gjorge Ivanov said that the EU was stuck in a 20th-century mindset and petty internal squabbles had left it unable to meet the challenges of the current century, from mass migration to digital crime bosses and a revanchist Russia.

Ivanov cited the failure of Europe to channel investment into an east-west infrastructure corridor connecting the Adriatic and Black seas as an example of EU short-sightedness, as it focused instead on a north-south corridor connecting Greece and Serbia, the British newspaper wrote.

“Now we arrive at the situation where we are using Chinese money and credits to build a European corridor transiting the territory of Macedonia. This is the paradox. This is what I mean when I talk about Europe is withdrawing. It’s like a call to China,” he added.

Analyzing the state of play, the Telegraph said that the rising influence of Russia, China and Turkey in the western Balkans has become a renewed focus of concern in Europe, and was forced up the agenda of last June’s European leaders’ summit, partly at the behest of the UK. “UK security officials warn of the growing risk of Russian meddling in Macedonia in a bid to frustrate its turn towards the Euro-Atlantic sphere, while watching with trepidation as China pours in investment via its “16+1” scheme for Central and Eastern European countries,” it reported.

“Macedonia is seeking to join both the EU and NATO but is currently blocked by Greece, which vetoes membership talks because of a long-running dispute over the right of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia – FYROM – to use the same name as the region of northern Greece,” The Telegraph concluded.

Greece’s continued blocking of Macedonia’s entry into NATO or the opening of EU accession talks, Ivanov noted, had left his country in a geopolitical limbo, that typified Europe’s insular approach to the challenges confronting the continent.

“We have a political crisis every two to three years,” he said, “Imagine the feeling of being stuck in an elevator for two or three minutes, this is depressing. It makes you feel powerless. Imagine us being stuck in such an elevator for 26 years,” President Ivanov told the Telegraph.

“Bismarck once said that we whoever controls the valley of the River Vardar controls the connections between Europe and the Middle East. And whoever controls the connections between Europe and the Middle East, also control the connections between Europe and Asia. The EU seems to have forgotten this,” Macedonia’s President stressed.

Last week, Ivanov paid a working visit to the United Kingdom, where he delivered a lecture at the Oxford Union and addressed Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs. In London, he held meetings with the speakers of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.