Hahn: I’m confident that negotiations with EU will start next year

Brussels, 27 July, 2018 - 11:21 (META) 

Talking to European newspaper “Politico Europe”, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn says he is “very confident” that the negotiations with Macedonia and Albania could start next year.

In the interview, Hahn explains that the process of vetting the countries before negotiations has already begun.

“This is a very comprehensive work and I hope we can conclude it in a year to 14 months. The aim is really to get a green light by all member states middle of next year,” said Hahn recalling the EU Council’s agenda in June 2019 to return to the start of negotiations with Macedonia and Albania when member states are expected to give the green light if the conditions set are fulfilled.

For Macedonia these conditions relate to the reformation of the security services, public administration and the fight against corruption, including high levels of crime.

The European Commissioner also addressed the French blockade of enlargement, which has irritated most of the member states and the European Commission.

French President Emmanuel Macron believes that the EU should focus on reforming itself before it can expand, an argument where Hahn draws a parallel. The EU Commissioner points out that citizens of Western Balkan countries “have the right to become (EU) members” and that the EU “faces a choice between exporting stability to the region or having instability imported into the bloc”.

“My point is maybe a little different from President Macron, maybe we can convince him that both have to be done in parallel,”Hahn told Politico Europe.

One of Hahn’s warnings why the EU needs to be refocused on the Balkans is that other major powers are increasingly turning to the Balkans. Although Russia is often mentioned in this context, the EU Commissioner also talks about the increase of Chinese investments.

Hahn is concerned that Beijing could turn countries in the region into “Trojan horses” that would one day become EU members. One of the examples cited by Hahn is the construction of a highway in Montenegro, financed by China.

“I think we should be aware about the strategic concept by China and react in an adequate manner. I think this will be one of the great challenges of Europe,” said Hahn.

Russian cyber spy rummaged through Macedonia following events in Kumanovo

Veles, 20 July, 2018 - 18:16 (META) 

A joint investigation by “BuzzFeed News” and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has revealed that Veles’ political news industry was not started “spontaneously by apolitical teenagers.”

According to the investigation, after reviewing social media posts, government records, domain registry information and archived versions of fake news websites, as well as interviewing key players, the websites with fake news in Veles were started by Macedonian lawyer Trajche Arsov – who worked closely with two high profile American partners for at least six months during a period that overlapped with Election Day.

Ana BogachevaThe investigation also reveals that at least one member of Russia’s “troll factory” Anna Bogacheva, charged by US special counsel Robert Mueller for allegedly interfering in the elections, was in Macedonia only three months before the first web domain was registered.

Immigration records obtained by journalists show that Bogacheva was in fact in Macedonia in mid-2015, and left the country by land to Greece on June 26 that year, however, there are no records of her entry into the country.

On May 9 and 10, the same year, 2015, one of the biggest crises shook Macedonia. The controversial “Kumanovo events” in Divo Naselje took place where 8 police officers were killed. The Basic Court Skopje 1 handed down seven life sentences in November 2017 and sentenced 13 defendants to 40 years in prison each.

When asked by journalists why she was in Macedonia in 2015, Bogacheva said “sorry, I’m not discussing my work.”

Bogacheva is one of the 13 Russian nationals indicted in February over alleged interference in the US election.

The indictment focused on the role of the St. Petersburg based Internet Research Agency- often referred to as a “troll factory” – which produced online propaganda and spread messages via social media to help Trump and defeat Hillary Clinton.

Reporters have not found a connection between Bogacheva and the Macedonian websites, and Arsov denies any affliation with Russia.

There are still no answers to questions such as; who were Bogachova’s contacts in Macedonia? Who allowed her to leave the country if there was no record that she had entered legally, and what was her role was in creating other “troll factories”.

Moscow: The agreement concerning the name, instead of consensus, provoked additional friction

Moscow, 18 July, 2018 - 19:21 (META) 

The solution for the name should be based on a broad social consensus and an impeccable constitutional basis. With the Prespa Agreement this is not the case. It just caused additional schisms in both Greece and the Republic of Macedonia, said Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at today’s press briefing, stated the Russian Embassy in Skopje via their Twitter account.

“We are confused by the statement of Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev that some businessmen who are sympathetic to Russia are allegedly financing an anti-government protest movement in Macedonia, concerning the agreement reached with Greece. The purpose of these allegations at Moscow’s expense are aimed at creating anti-Russian hysteria. There is no evidence, nor will there be anything that could confirm the words of Zoran Zaev”, said Zakharova.


Russian Embassy: Zaev and Sekerinska are spreading Russophobia, we expect an investigation into allegations

Skopje, 17 July, 2018 - 11:55 (META) 

Yesterday evening, the Russian embassy reacted to allegations from Prime Minister Zoran Zaev that businessmen from Russia financed anti-government protests. Zaev made the statement in an interview with BuzzFeed News and then repeated it in response to a journalist’s question at the start of the construction of the American Dura plant in Bunardzik.

The Embassy believes that the statement was guesswork, similar to those of the Minister of Defense Radmila Sekerinska recently.

“We believe that such statements are guesswork, as well as the recent allegations by the Minister of Defense, Radmila Sekerinska, are aimed at spreading Russophobia, which is increasingly accepted by the Western partners of Macedonia as a tool for achieving its own internal and external political goals. In that context, the honesty of the efforts of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia for building friendly relations with the Russian Federation is questionable”, read the statement.

In addition, it calls for an investigation into the Government’s allegations.

“We expect that the Macedonian side, within the legal field of its state and international practice, will conduct a detailed and objective investigation of the allegations that the stated members of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia allude to, and will present it to the public, as well as the Russian side, real facts, not constructions”, read the statement.

The Embassy of the Russian Federation says they are “counterproductive and irresponsible attempts” to intimidate citizens “with a fictitious Russian threat”.

Zaev for “BuzzFeed News”: Pro-Russian businessmen are paying for violent protests in Macedonia

Skopje, 16 July, 2018 - 15:09 (META) 

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, in an interview with “BuzzFeed News”, said pro-Russian businessmen are trying to stop the country from joining NATO by paying for violent protests.

Zoran Zaev said his government has received multiple reports that “Greek businessmen” who are “sympathetic to the Russian cause” paid Macedonians amounts ranging from $13,000 to $21,000 to “commit acts of violence” ahead of the crucial referendum later this year that will determine whether the Balkan state will be able to join the military alliance.

“The Russian representatives who were here, and also others from Moscow, [don’t] hide themselves that they are against our integration in NATO. Part of them are connected with media, part of them … encourage the young people to protest in front of the parliament, to attack policemen … It’s very obvious”, Zaev said.

Zaev declined to name who was behind the payments, citing an ongoing investigation and the sensitivities of diplomatic relations surrounding the country’s bid for NATO membership. He said that police learned of the payments after detaining several participants in violent protests outside parliament in June.


Reuters: Russian diplomats in Greece involved in “many illegal activities” in protests against Macedonia

Athens, 11 July, 2018 - 18:56 (META) 

The Russian diplomats that Greece is due to expel regarding interference in Greece’s domestic affairs, as well as an attempt to undermine the agreement for the name with Macedonia, have been involved in “many illegal activities” related to protests against the Agreement in Greece, reports Reuters News Agency.

The agency reports that Greece had issued official warnings to Russian authorities on Friday, giving the diplomats a few days to leave the country.

Allegations against the Russian diplomats concern involvement in rallies against a deal with Macedonia, as well as attempts to offer money to state officials and church dignitaries, said the source.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, as well as a special EU envoy to the Balkans and High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, commented on the decision by Athens. He described Greece’s move as “interesting”.

“Interesting. Greece expels Russian diplomats because they interfere in domestic affairs, allegedly including Macedonia name issue”, Bildt wrote on his Twitter account.


Greece to expel two Russian diplomats over attempts to undermine the name dispute Treaty

Athens, 11 July, 2018 - 11:57 (META) 

The Greek government has decided to expel two Russian diplomats and ban the entry of two others, accusing them of attempting to interfere in Greece’s internal affairs, as well as undermining the Agreement regarding the name with Macedonia, reports the Greek daily “Kathimerini”.

Diplomats have been charged with attempts to obtain and distribute information, as well as the bribing of Greek officials. According to senior sources in Greek diplomatic circles, Athens urgently demanded that Viktor Yakovlev and another man from the embassy have to leave Greece.

There were allegedly a number of coordinated efforts to intensify Russian influence in Greece, among others, through the activities of the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society. There was a clear signs that Russia had intentions to intervene regarding the sensitive issue of the Treaty between Greece and Macedonia and to negatively influence Greek policy in the Balkans.

Today Russian Foreign Ministry officials have stated they would respond in the appropriate manner regarding the expulsion of Russian diplomats.

According to the newspaper, they tried to influence some municipalities, some of the Metropolitans of the Greek Orthodox Church through bribery, as well as to gain greater influence on Mount Athos.

Kremlin: Macedonia’s membership to NATO is their sovereign right

Moscow, 29 June, 2018 - 14:28 (META) 

Macedonia’s accession to NATO is a sovereign right of the country. Moscow fosters good relations with Skopje, but opposes the Alliance’s approach to Russia’s borders, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday.

“It is the sovereign decision for Macedonia itself. We appreciate and maintain good relations with Macedonia. Of course, we are interested in developing bilateral cooperation. But with regard to NATO’s approach and its infrastructure to our borders, Moscow’s position on this process is known-and nothing has changed in that regard”, replied Peskov to a journalist’s question about the Kremlin’s position on Macedonia’s accession to NATO.

Kay Hutchison: NATO will protect Macedonia from Russian aggression

Washington, 6 June, 2018 - 18:24 (META) 

The outcome of the name talks is anticipated at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Macedonia meets all the conditions, the final step is completing the name negotiations for Macedonia to join NATO at the upcoming summit in July, said US Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison.

“From the previous summits, it is clear that NATO is ready to start the accession talks with Macedonia once the name issue is resolved. I believe that the ministers in both countries are working very hard to reach a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue. Once an agreement is reached and the key requirement is fulfilled, I think that Macedonia will start the process of accession to NATO. NATO was clear that Macedonia meets the requirements, except for the name and as soon as this is resolved, we wish for Macedonia to be an equal partner. The United States strongly supports the accession of Macedonia and we hope that this will happen at the upcoming Summit, but what is now required of both countries is to complete the negotiations and pave the way for Macedonia’s accession”, said Hutchison.

The ambassador said that the Alliance will do everything possible to protect Macedonia from what it calls Russian aggression, even though the country’s admission to the organization has not yet begun due to the unsettled name issue, RIA News reports.

“If the name dispute is not resolved by the NATO summit is over and the procedure for the country’s admission is not started, we will continue to work to protect the country from any harmful influences. We have close working relations with Macedonia, and in NATO we will do everything possible to help the country resist the devastating influence by Russia, whether it is a hybrid war or any other activity”, said Hutchison.

The NATO summit will be held in early July in Brussels, and Macedonia hopes that the name issue will be resolved by then and will become the 30th Alliance member.

Stoltenberg: Russia does not decide on Macedonia’s NATO membership

Brussels, 26 April, 2018 - 16:50 (META) 

Today, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that only Macedonia and the 29 Alliance members can decide on the country’s membership in the Alliance, reported MIA.

At a press conference the day before the meeting between NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, Secretary-General Stoltenberg asked to comment on the statements of the Russian ambassador to Macedonia that the country would become a “legitimate target” in the event of a conflict, if it became a NATO member, and said it was a show of force.

“The whole idea that Russia will not accept certain countries to become NATO members is an idea of the spheres of influence where the great powers are controlling the smaller states and that is in contradiction of everything NATO stands for. First, I think that it is important that every nation has the right to decide its own path and security arrangements; this is a fundamental principle for NATO. It is up to Skopje to decide its own path and whether it wants to join NATO. Macedonia and the 29 NATO allies decide on this, and nobody else has a say in this process”, replied Stoltenberg.

According to the MIA correspondent, Stoltenberg said that he welcomes the progress in negotiations over the name dispute and is being informed about it.