Putin's Prowl
Bear in the Balkans Sniffing at Macedonia

Could a scandal in Macedonia push the Balkan state towards Russia? An alleged whistleblower recently dropped “information bombs” on the country’s political scene that show near-total government corruption. Hundreds of thousands of leaked recordings paint a picture of bribery, purges of members of the political opposition from government jobs, the buying and selling of the judiciary, and so on. Foreign Affairs lays out the whole grimly unfolding story in this article, which we encourage you to read in full. Russia, for its part, is seizing the moment:

Since the crisis began, Macedonia has been distancing itself further from the EU and the West—President Gjorge Ivanov’s travel to Moscow for Victory in Europe Day is one indication of this trend. This comes after Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki expressed reservations about EU’s sanctions against Russia last September. Russia is wooing Macedonia for strategic reasons, as well, since Moscow is attempting to build natural gas pipelines to Western Europe that bypass Ukrainian territory. […]

However, there is little popular support in Macedonia for a reorientation toward Moscow. Unlike in Serbia, where many blame the 1999 U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign for the loss of Kosovo, the majority of ethnic Macedonians regard the West favorably, believing that the United States was instrumental in keeping the country together during the 2001 armed conflict with ethnic Albanians and seeing membership in the EU as the top foreign policy objective of the country.

But for Gruevski, EU membership is a low priority. With his political and personal fortunes at stake, Russia’s friendship might prove irresistible to him as he frantically searches for ways to cling to power. This clash—between political and public wills—may pose a grave risk for the stability of the country.

From Russia, it must sometimes appear as if the West’s position in the eastern Mediterranean is falling apart. Even given this weekend’s election news, Erdogan’s Turkey is a less and less likely leader for a NATO country, Greece is in the hands of a pro-Russia, anti-EU party, and a number of other countries in and around the Balkans seem to be drifting away from European bureaucratic democracy and toward something like Putinism.

The counter to this would be an engaged western policy in the Balkans and elsewhere. But both the U.S. and the EU seem to be suffering from Balkan fatigue. It remains to be seen whether the Russian threat can accomplish what common sense and prudence failed to do: to energize Europeans and also Americans to work harder at the intractable and frustrating problems that the region contains.

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