Russia links west to Macedonia violence
Macedonia is emerging as a potential flashpoint in a geopolitical stand-off between Russia and the west, with Moscow accusing western capitals of trying to foment a revolution in the former Yugoslav republic.
The western Balkans state has been rocked by violence and demonstrations in the past 10 days, amid accusations that Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is becoming an authoritarian leader.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of the capital, Skopje, despite intense heat on Sunday to demand Mr Gruevski’s resignation. The mass demonstration came a week after tensions between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians exploded in clashes between police and gunmen in the town of Kumanovo where at least 18 people were killed.
The instability has prompted concerns in EU capitals that unrest in Macedonia could spill over into neighbouring countries such as Serbia and destabilise the rest of the western Balkans.
But Moscow has constructed an alternative narrative. Senior Russian officials and media have suggested that the west is behind the protests against a Macedonian leader it had initially backed as someone who would speed his country’s progress towards EU membership.
Speaking on a visit to Serbia on Friday, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said events in Macedonia were “unfolding against the background of the government’s refusal to join the policy of sanctions against Russia and the vigorous support Skopje gave to the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project”.
Turkish Stream is a scheme that Moscow is promoting to replace the South Stream project to bring Russian gas into southeast Europe which was abandoned in December after EU opposition.
Russia’s foreign ministry on Saturday followed Mr Lavrov’s comments with a statement citing Serbian media reports of the arrest of a Montenegrin citizen alleged to have “assisted Kosovo-Albanian extremists” in Macedonia.
It said the arrest was “convincing proof of plans launched from outside to destabilise the internal political situation in this country, an attempt to push it into the abyss of a coloured revolution”.
The statements were retweeted by Russian diplomats overseas on Monday.
Sputnik, the state-run Russian news agency, reported that Macedonia was being “forced to decide between a national identity and EU/Nato integration”. It alleged that the west had increased financial support for pro-democracy activities, such as the $4.8m Civil Society Project, which “trained over 1,000 young people in the use of social media”.
The claims echo the Russian narrative surrounding last year’s protests that toppled former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich, who had initially claimed to be pro-western but swung towards Russia. Moscow says he was removed by a “US-backed coup”.