The ambassador of Ukraine to North Macedonia, Natalia Zadorozhniuk in the panel discussion “The Russian-Ukrainian Crisis and North Macedonia” organized by CIVIL, which took place on the 9th of February, said that Ukraine expects clear and unambiguous political support from its friend North Macedonia in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but also that North Macedonia should join the EU economic sanctions against Russia, which were introduced by the European Union (EU) in 2014, following the illegal Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
“We expect [North Macedonia to join] the sanctions of the European Union. You can’t sit in two chairs at once! There are times in life when you need to decide for yourself, first of all and most importantly, on which side of the barricade you will stand. The Ukrainians have a very vivid negative experience with neutrality. If we go towards the European Union and NATO, if we are part of the European values, then we should demonstrate this not only with words, but also with our deeds and actions,“ the Ukrainian ambassador Zadorozhniuk said.
Ukraine has political support from North Macedonia
Concerning the political support, North Macedonia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bujar Osmani on the 31st of January at the meeting with the Russian ambassador in Skopje, Sergey Bazdnikin, reiterated the stance that North Macedonia respects the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine within the internationally recognized borders.
Political support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and independence also came a few days later from Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski, who on the 3rd of February this year, met with the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg.
“We support the proposal of NATO for topical meetings with Russia, concerning the state of the relations, the European security with a focus on Ukraine, the transparency, the risk reduction and control of the weapons. We fully support the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine within the internationally recognized borders,“ Prime minister Kovachevski said.
No economic sanctions by North Macedonia for Russia
However, North Macedonia for years has not joined the sanctions for Russia which the European Union introduced after the Russian illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, which is situated on the Ukrainian territory. Macedonia in 2014 did not join the sanctions of the EU after the annexation of Crimea, and since then, we have not adopted a new decision. At the end of 2020, Radio Free Europe in Macedonian language version wrote on the topic.
The former Prime minister Zoran Zaev, in a statement on the 30th of December 2020 explained that North Macedonia hadn’t joined the sanctions of the EU for Russia because the country has serious interests for the economic cooperation with Russia.
“We are a candidate for EU membership, but not a member yet. It is in the interest of the citizens and the state to avoid doing something that we are not obliged to do. And therefore, in addition to all the things I have mentioned, we have not joined the economic measures against Russia, because we have serious interests for economic cooperation with Russia. We are a member of NATO and for us there is no alternative to the EU, but our country has interest in being a friend to the rest of the world,“ the then prime minister Zaev said.
He added that the country since 2016 had joined all the statements, declarations, actions, and sanctions adopted by the EU, including those against Russian citizens and Russian legal entities. However, the rate of alignment of the Republic of North Macedonia with the stances, the declarations of the EU, i.e. the agreement with them, at the end of the year 2020 were 94%, and by 2016 it was 74%t.
The exports to Russia in decline, the import grows
On the other hand, according to the most recent data from the State Statistical Office about the foreign trade exchange, in the period from January to December 2021, the Russian Federation was in the 20th position on the list of countries North Macedonia has highest volume of trade in goods with. The total trading volume last year was US $233,507,000, which was an increase of 12.4% compared to 2020.
In addition, North Macedonia’s exports to the Russian Federation last year were US $57,140,000, a decrease of 5,4% compared to 2020, while in 2021 we imported goods from Russia worth US $176,367,000 of dollars, which is an increase of 19.7% in comparison with January-December 2020.
The EU sanctions have been in force for almost 8 years
Nevertheless, the European Union together with the USA immediately after the illegal Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014 have imposed sanctions to Russia. According to the press release of the European Council from the 13th of January 2022, EU extended the economic sanctions for Russia until the 31st of July 2022. With the extending of the sanctions so far, EU very often added new measures against Russia.
The EU sanctions for Russia include restriction of access to primary and secondary capital markets in the EU for certain Russian banks and companies, as well as a ban of the forms of financial assistance and mediation for Russian financial institutions. The sanctions prohibit direct or indirect export, import or transfer of materials associated with the defense, but also a limitation of the Russian access to certain sensitive technologies that can be used in the Russian energy sector, for example, in the production and prospecting for oil, as well as a series of other economic sanctions of EU for Russia.
At the same time, the measures undertaken by the EU towards Russia concerning the territorial integrity of Ukraine, at the moment are directed toward 185 persons and 48 subjects. Concerning the persons, they are subject to freezing of the property, including a ban on managing the finances, as well as a ban on travel, which prevents these persons to enter or transit through EU countries, states the website of the European Council.
In addition to the implementation by the EU member countries, these sanctions of EU for Russia due to the annexation of Crimea were also supported by Montenegro and Albania, as candidates for full membership in the EU, but not by North Macedonia and Serbia.
According to the press release of the European Council on the 27th of July of 2021, the sanctions that had been extended until the summer of 2022, were supported by Montenegro and Albania, together with Georgia and Norway. Otherwise, the candidate countries for ЕУ membership are not obliged to implement in full the EU regulations before they become official members of the EU.
N. Macedonia does not have political interests similar to those of Serbia
However, in the case of Serbia, the current leadership in Belgrade through the president of the Serbian parliament’s Ivica Dacic in June of 2021, said that Serbia would never introduce sanctions against “its friend Russia” and EURactiv published his opinion and the opinion of the Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikola Selakovic that Russia has given the greatest support to Serbia in the preservation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty in relation to Kosovo. However, unlike Serbia, which seeks a more powerful ally for the settlement of a long-running dispute with Kosovo, North Macedonia, at the moment has no such political interests in Russia.
Apart from North Macedonia, the Russian influence in the energy sector in Serbia is much more present. The Naftna industrija Srbije – NIS, (Oil Industry of Serbia), one of the greatest Serbian exporters is majority-owned by the Russian company “Gazprom Neft” (Газпром нефть), after 51% of the shares were sold in 2008. Radio Free Europe in Serbian language says that eight years in a row, NIS hasn’t been able to get credits from the western banks and financial institutions, but the problem is also the purchase of equipment from manufacturers in the European Union and the USA. The reason for this is not just the economic sanctions of the EU towards Russia, but also in the fact that the Russian state company “Gazprom neft”, which is the owner of NIS, is on the black list of the EU and the USA, following the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia.