Russia is accusing the West of fomenting an anti-Russian movement in Macedonia, as citizens of the latter country have taken to the streets to protest the government of PM Nikola Gruevski. The Gruevski government is mired in a scandal involving mass wire-tapping and the opposition is demanding that he resign. Protests took place this weekend, largely without incident, in the aftermath of a government police crackdown in the town of Kumanovo which left 18 dead more than a week ago. That police action was billed as an attempt to curb terrorist activities by irredentist Albanian extremists, but was dismissed by many Macedonians as a ploy to distract from the government’s other problems.
Gruevski’s government has been friendly to Russia, so the protests have set the Kremlin’s imagination into overdrive. Visiting neighboring Serbia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gave vent to some speculations. The Fiscal Times:
“Objectively speaking, the events in Macedonia are 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, which many people oppose, both in Brussels and across the ocean,” he said.
“So we can’t help but feeling that there is some sort of connection here,” Lavrov added.
Russia’s foreign ministry further seized on the arrest of a Montenegrin citizen for collusion with Albanian extremists in Kumanovo as “convincing evidence … of attempts to push the country into the abyss of ‘color revolution.’” A columnist in the Kremlin-aligned Izvestia noted late last week got even more specific: “Basically, this is our fight with Washington for Europe. Sometimes the saving of Europe begins in the Balkans…”
It’s unclear to what extent the Kremlin actually believes that the West is successfully marshaling forces against their interests in such far-flung places as Macedonia, and to what extent Putin and Lavrov just see an opportunity here to stir up trouble where the Europeans need it least. Regardless of the balance, we’re quite likely to see more Russian activity in the Balkans in the coming months.