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Strained relations between Sofia and Moscow over Macedonia

Photo: BGNES

In the upper house of the Russian parliament, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated the West may want to change the government in Skopje so as to counterbalance Russia's influence in the region. The destabilization of Macedonia was caused by external factors and there were plans to divide Macedonia up between Bulgaria and Albania, he said. In a biting retort Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov described Lavrov's claims as an attempt to cast doubt on the agenda in the region saying that attempts by countries outside it to undermine stabiliity through such suggestions should stopt. This caustic tone at such a political level is a sign of strong irritation and media have been saying that a diplomatic row was brewing between the two countries. Future developments will show whether there will be a full-blown diplomatic scandal or not.

Sofia's irritation is aggravated by the feeling that Bulgaria is subject to a targeted campaign because the statements by Minister Lavrov were preceded by publications to the same effect carried by sputniknews.com. The site is considered to be the Kremlin's multilingual tool in the world of media whose aim is to inform the world on topics Moscow deems important, and probably not coincidentally the comments about the situation in Macedonia are associated with broader issues such as the sanctions against Russia and Moscow's future gas plans in the region.

But the Russian interpretations actually perplexed Bulgarians because of their factual discrepancies. It is a well known fact that Bulgaria was the first country to have recognized the independence and sovereignty of Macedonia after the collapse of the  former Yugoslavia, as is the fact that since then Bulgaria has consistently upheld this position at all international bodies and organizations. In some nationalist circles the idea of Macedonia as a historical part of Bulgaria still lingers, but even at times when tensions have been running high, such as the ethnic conflict in Macedonia in 2001, this idea has never stood a chance of developing into a real political ambition.

Now, in its capacity of member of EU and NATO, it is absolutely out of the question for Bulgaria to discuss splitting a neighboring country that is a candidate for membership in EU and NATO with anyone. Minister Daniel Mitov stated in Brussels this week, that the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Macedonia should be guaranteed and urged the European Union to join in the regulation of the political crisis there with all of its institutions.

The recent strain between Moscow and Sofia engendered by the political crisis in Macedonia is not likely to become an episode disrupting bilateral relations. What gives cause for concern is the fact that such episodes of bilateral tension have been caused by international developments such as the sanctions against Russia over the Ukrainian crisis, or the collapse of the South Stream project, and in this sense they were inevitable because the two countries belong to different poles in the modern world.

English version: Alexander Markov

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