(In)visible “Russian touch” in the last round of tensions between Sofia and Skopje


Although there are more variations of the topic related to where the Russian influence was greater in the latest escalations of the relations between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, more serious sources agree quite distinctively that it is there. No doubt, many information and disinformation surrounding this problem are also present contributing to the escalation, with the probable ultimate goal to keep the issue open thereby weaking the chances for reaching a solution to the dispute, writes Truthmeter.mk.

Under the content-sharing agreement between Truthmeter.mk and Meta.mk, we republish the text below:


In the last ten days, several relevant sources from both North Macedonia and Bulgaria gave statements, directly or indirectly claiming that the latest tension of Sofia-Skopje relations are provoked by a third party or third parties thereby pinpointing the “Russian intelligence service” and the “Russian Federation”. There are some small variations about the so-called “Russian touch” thus most of the sources mentioned believe that such a touch works on both sides of the border. Some of the sources, on the other hand, agree that the activity is more present in the political and social circles in Bulgaria rather than in North Macedonia.

The whole new round of accusations of Russian influence in the dispute between the two countries started with the statement of the President of the RNM, Stevo Pendarovski, given after the Security Council session when he proposed to the Government to adopt measures for expelling or banning entry into the country to persons or groups worsening the relations. Talking about previous actions of the Macedonian Security Services when three persons with Bulgarian citizenship were expelled, out of who two of them, apparently, were journalists and a third person who has been quite vocal in relations with the current events. Pendarovski added that ”he cannot reveal details”, but that ”some of the persons and structures” mentioned on the press-conference ”are also related to the Russian Intelligence Service” (see from 8.50 min. of the video).

The public recognized the Member of the European Parliament, Angel Dzhambazki, – as he did himself – among the persons mentioned by Pendarovski as well as the leader of the Bulgarian Parliamentary party “Prerodba” (Revival Party), Kostadin Kostadinov and the President of a relatively new entity, “Foundation Macedonia”, Viktor Stojanov.

Top State officials on the session of the SC. Photo: Cabinet of the RNM President

The second high-ranking official of the RNM to directly mention the Russian Federation as the “third party” benefiting from the poor relations between Sofia and Skopje is the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bujar Osmani. On 29.01.2023, in an interview for Radio Free Europe in Macedonian language, a few days after Pendarovski’s statement, he said that ”he did not have direct information”, but that he was sure:

That third-party interest was to keep the conflicts alive in the region – sometimes even frozen – for the purpose of influencing it. That is a familiar thing and we have seen that influence a long time ago with different intensity, in different periods of the relations, and not only between Bulgaria and North Macedonia, but in the Western Balkans in general. Answering the question of the journalist to clarify which third-party interest he was talking about; he decisively said the Russian Federation.

First to respond were Angel Dimitrov and Ekaterina Zaharieva

The former Bulgarian ambassador and the co-chair of the Joint Commission for History and Education, Angel Dimitrov, reported by DW on Macedonian language, was among the first to respond to the mentioning of the “Russian connection”:

I really do not know what Stevo Pendarovski is referring to. I have not heard his statement. To present the problems with Bulgaria however, as some kind of Russian meddling, sounds ridiculous to me, unbelievable. Maybe they have specific persons in mind… That is a weak political statement, since such accusations have to be substantiated with a number of serious arguments, on the one hand. On the other hand, the problem is yet again subsided. The problem is about internal politics – in terms of the relations created in their country with people with Bulgarian self-awareness, stated Dimitrov.

Soon after that, the former Chief of Bulgarian diplomacy, Ekaterina Zaharieva, responded to the “Russian connection”, – as reported by Meta.mk – accusing Pendarovski for working for the interest of Belgrade and Moscow.

President Stevo Pendarovski is not protecting the interests of his fatherland but works in favour of Serbian and Russian politics on the Balkans. With his statement he is preventing the development of the relations between Sofia and Skopje – said Zaharieva in the interview for BGNES, as transmitted by Meta.mk.

Noev, Poptodorova and Kyuchyuk confirm “Russian influence” and “third parties”

The media in Sofia – but also taken over by renown media from the Macedonian information sphere – quoted respectable politician and intellectuals confirming the information of President Pendarovski about people or groups working to corrupt the relations between both countries and the involvement of third countries such as Russia. This was a statement given by the former Bulgarian Defence Minister, Boyko Noev:

There are Bulgarian politician who should not be allowed entry in the Republic of North Macedonia, but also, they should be forbidden to act on the political scene in Bulgaria. These Bulgarian politicians want to separate Bulgaria from Europe. They are politicians who organize referenda for leaving Europe, they are against the Euro and maybe even to enter the Ruble Zone. They are politicians who openly defend Kremlin interest in Bulgaria, stated Noev (sources: SP and BTV).

The statement of the former Bulgarian ambassador to the USA, Elena Poptodorova for Bulgarian Nova News builds onto this and was taken over by Truthmeter as an analysis. She confirmed Pendarovski’s statement with a minor modification:

Every politician who attacks the Republic of North Macedonia for the purpose of political trade is actually serving Russian interest. The outlook is much more complex than talking about espionage connections. No doubt, the assumed persons pointed out by Mr. Pendarovski are related to Russian services because they have their own agenda, their own genesis that can serve Russian interest. It is very difficult however, to identify the link with the Russian services in terms of instructions, finances etc. The thesis itself is true – all politicians and political parties in Bulgaria who are targeting Macedonia for their own political and mercantile interest, are working in favour of Russia. Nevertheless, the outlook is much broader than what Pendarovski mentioned, stated the former Bulgarian Ambassador to the USA.

Borisov and Zaharieva with the same tone

On 28.01.2023, the former Prime-minister and leader of the GERB party, Boyko Borisov, stated that he recognized Russian influence in terms of ”returning North Macedonia back under Russian influence”.

An act such as beating up a Bulgarian puts the public completely on the side of the beaten person and can take us in a different direction that is beneficial to Putin and his geo-strategic plans for the Balkans. Here I see an attempt of returning North Macedonia back under Russian influence – purposefully – and that is done quite actively. Under no circumstance should you be deceived. The best thing for Bulgaria is North Macedonia and Albania to be within the European Union and NATO, said Borisov, reported RFE.

With that, Borisov is almost unanimous with Zaharieva, who thinks that North Macedonia is to blame and that President Pendarovski with his proposal to ban and declare status “persona non grata” to a specific number of Bulgarian citizens for the upcoming marking of the 151 anniversary of the birth of Goce Delcev on 4th February, is working for the interests of Belgrade and Moscow.

Photo: Kremlin in Moscow/Wikipedia


From the statements presented in this information summary, one can conclude that undoubtedly several serious sources, politicians both current and former, as well as diplomats mention the “Russian touch” in the latest incident with the person from Ohrid, a Macedonian citizen with Bulgarian self-awareness, Hristijan Pendikov. Whether that is happening in North Macedonia or in Bulgaria is just a matter of variation.

Although Russian representatives on the Balkans and in Moscow do not respond to these statements – at least not until the publishing of this text – there is no doubt that such influence can be noted in the numerous information and disinformation in both Macedonian and Bulgarian media sphere that contribute to the escalation of the attacks of Sofia toward Skopje with the probable ultimate goal to keep the issue open thereby weakening the chances of reaching a solution to the dispute.



This article was produced within the project Fact-Checking the Progress of North Macedonia towards the EU, implemented by the Metamorphosis Foundation. The article, originally published by Truthmeter, was produced with support from the American non-profit foundation NED (National Endowment for Democracy). The content of this article is the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Metamorphosis, NED or their partners.

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