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NATO Invites Macedonia to Begin Accession Talks

Poland, Baltic countries are anxiously watching the development of ongoing summit, hoping for increased security pledges.

12 July 2018

Macedonia’s signing of an agreement with Greece over a new name has opened Skopje’s door to NATO membership. The leaders of the alliance invited Macedonia on Wednesday to start accession talks, with the success ultimately hinging on a referendum backing the new name, which is “Republic of North Macedonia,” Reuters writes.

 

Greece has opposed the use of the name “Macedonia” for the former Yugoslav republic on the grounds that it is the same as one of its northern geographical and historical regions, thus potentially leading to territorial claims.

 

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and either they [the Macedonian people] support the agreement and they can join NATO, or they don’t support the agreement but then they won’t join it. They cannot get both,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during a news conference, Reuters writes.

 

Sealed a month ago, the historical agreement between the two countries also satisfied the EU’s most important pre-accession condition.

 

The invitation comes despite opposition from Russia, as NATO expansion could potentially lead to Moscow losing its foothold in the Balkans. Macedonia could become “a legitimate target” if the relationship between Russia and NATO deteriorates further, Russia’s ambassador to Skopje warned.  

 

Another Balkan country has felt similar pressures both from Russia and its allies on account of its pro-NATO commitments. Montenegro – where a majority of people are pro-Russia according to the latest polls, cited by Balkan Insight – recently riled neighboring, pro-Moscow Serbia after Montenegro’s parliament greenlighted a decision to send two military officers to join KFOR, the NATO operation in Kosovo.

 

Both Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin criticized the decision, which they saw as “not friendly toward Serbia,” in Vucic’s words, and supportive of Kosovo’s independence, according to Vulin. Montenegrin Defense Minister Predrag Boskovic insisted that this was not a betrayal of Serbia, Balkan Insight writes.

 

Poland and the Baltic nations have been closely watching the development of the NATO summit, which started yesterday in Brussels.  One of the key issues on the summit’s agenda has been the imbalance of payments among alliance members, Deutsche Welle wrote before its start, with Poland one of the few NATO members spending the 2 percent required by the alliance on defense. 

 

Polish President Andrzej Duda commended Trump for prompting debates over NATO spending that would benefit countries in the East such as Poland because allies have already committed to increased spending, according to AP. Duda said he would be "shocked" if Trump would initiate a decrease in the region’s security, adding that he had spoken to the U.S. president about increasing the U.S. troop presence in Poland yesterday evening. Last month, reports emerged  that Warsaw has offered to contribute up to $2 billion (1.7 million euros) to host a U.S. tank unit on its soil.

 

As for the Baltics, the three countries have been fretting over a meeting between Trump and Russian Vladimir Putin next week, writes The New York Times, especially in light of the U.S. president’s past comment that the alliance was “obsolete.” Such remarks led to the decision of the United States ambassador to Estonia, James D. Melville Jr. to resign last month.

 

 

“Even as Trump has railed against NATO, the United States military has continued to lead the alliance in combating what is now commonly referred to as Russian hybrid warfare: asymmetric and nontraditional military capabilities used to destabilize democracies through cyberattacks, disinformation, and propaganda campaigns,” The New York Times writes.

 

 

  • More reassuring news concerning the Baltics came from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said before the NATO summit that Canada plans to boost troop numbers in Latvia to 540 from 455 and maintain its presence there until 2023, according to Bloomberg.
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  • Balkan issues have also recently been a bone of contention between Moscow and one of its traditional, fellow Orthodox allies. Greece announced earlier this week that it would expel two Russian diplomats suspected of hindering its name deal with Macedonia, EurActiv writes, citing Greek media. Russia’s foreign ministry said it would respond in kind to the expulsions, according to the Interfax news agency, cited by EurActiv.

 

  • The Slovak ministry of defense announced yesterday that it would replace its aging Russian-made MiG-29s with 14 U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, according to VOA. TOL’s Martin Ehl wrote in May that the country had several choices: to “modernize the existing Russian fleet; buy Swedish-made Gripens and cooperate with the neighboring Czechs and Hungarians, who already have them, and create, for example, a common maintenance center to cut costs; or buy old, but modernized versions of American F-16 planes, and thus follow in the footsteps of Poland.” Ehl wrote that a purchase of American planes “would reaffirm Slovakia’s commitment to strong relations with Washington.”

Compiled by Ioana Caloianu

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