Thursday, 14 December 2017 | News today: 14

What is Kremlin trying to tell us?

The second press release Kremlin has issued in the past three months which refers directly to Macedonia, speaks volumes of how Russia feels about Macedonia lately. The messages Putin's administration keeps sending us via press releases are a pig in a poke. The country which almost an year ago announced to Serbia - its strongest ally on the Balkans - it will cut gas deliveries due to unpaid debt of some hundred million of euros (ridiculous sum of money for Russia), and than included it in the "Turkish Stream", is now becoming directly involved in the case of Macedonia for the first time. It is sending it messages

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Columnist: Goran Momiroski

The first message is for the Macedonian government. It is neither a threat, nor a promise. Russian diplomats, on behalf of Putin, are letting Gruevski know that if the “Turkish Stream” project is implemented via Greece, Macedonia and all the way to Hungary, Macedonia would have to let Russia protect its hundreds of billions of euros worth project. In such case, Russia will not allow for the latest Russian energy penetration success to depend on anyone – on political entities in Macedonia, announcements on unification of Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, the American Embassy in Skopje or the State Department in Washington, Bulgaria or any other factor.

Thus, it is understandable that Greece and Serbia, as active partners of Russia in the project that will mark the decade, are not considered to be problematic, and these messages refer to them at the same time. Putin can simply not allow for the pipeline that will bring gas to Europe – and pump back cash back in the Russian budget – to be unstable. Macedonian authorities have to know that this is a basic rule on the big energy games. Just like some ten years ago a route for the American oil pipeline AMBO that will surpass the “unstable” regions in north-west Macedonia and the Presevo Valley was being looked for, the current route – wherever it passes by – has to be properly secured. Therefore, if the project becomes reality, they have a string of mechanisms to use in securing the pipeline. The Russian crisis management center in Nis, Serbia, where only Russian rescue teams and fire extinguishing aircrafts are located for the time being, are just a part of the operational, diplomatic, financial and military/security resources Moscow has at its disposal.

The last message Russia has sent to the Macedonian and the international public following the Gosince border watchtower incident, is also a message to the Albanian radicals in the country and the region. ONA, ANA, UCK, UCPMB and other military formations which emerge in the name of the so-called Albanian interests in the region, should be aware that if they pose any threat to the project, they would have to deal with Putin. Naturally, it is not possible to predict that in case Albanian militants try to endanger the pipeline, they would have to face Russian army forces, but the message here is completely different. Unlike 2001, when Russia remained uninvolved, while Ukraine was arming the Macedonian Army, it will now be Moscow that will do anything in its power to help Macedonia clean up the possible UCK descendants.

Moscow’s messages reach to Washington, as well. Although both major powers keep exchanging similar messages at a dozen of other locations worldwide – from Syria to Cyprus, for us it is interesting what is Russia is trying to tell the USA regarding Macedonia. In a lack of information on Russia’s plans for the region, it can only be assumed that Macedonia, which is not NATO member state, is free to be “conquered” both financially and politically. Although Macedonia – unlike Serbia – is not a neutral country, but a part of the western coalition besides the lack of formal membership, Russia considers our country open, primarily for projects that bring cash.

In a lack of any movement regarding Macedonia’s accession to NATO, Russia believes their is no obstacle to bring Macedonia into its strategic projects. Those projections probably take into consideration information that the Russian carried out public opinion polls, which results are different than those we knew thus far. Poor information on the poll in which Macedonian citizens were asked about their opinion regarding the USA, EU and Russia, show that polls in which over 90% are in favor of NATO accession are long gone.

Unless this is just another twist of the world powers to cause unrest among Macedonian citizens, than Macedonian authorities, as well as Washington, should ask themselves what has gone wrong, although everyone can already assume it. Anyways, after Germany stated it is also in favor of construction of “Turkish Stream” (specifically regarding Greece’s involvement in the project), it will be interesting to hear Washington’s response to Russia’s efforts of energy victory of the Budapest-Belgrade-Skopje-Athens corridor.

Defending its interests in Macedonia, the USA can refer to their permanent efforts to help the country as of its independence, they can refer to the half-dead agreement for strategic partnership signed after 2008 NATO’s summit, they can play the card of granting one billion euros via which USAID and other governmental institutions entered in Macedonia on behalf of assistance in reforms implementation. Of course, just like the USA, Russia also has a specter of measures at its disposal, but the fact remains that the Skopje-Washington-Moscow has neither formal obligations, nor bans to cooperate with other partner(s).

In the era when the American and the Russian government had excellent relations, there would have probably been no fear of approximation to any of these. But, in times when the USA sends military instructors to Ukraine, while Russia sends bombers to the Gulf of Mexico, and Kosovo radicals are conquering Macedonian border watchtowers, it is evident that Skopje’s government would have to play the most difficult high-stakes diplomatic game, and the risk can only be compared to the period prior to the withdrawal of the Yugoslav National Army from Macedonia.