Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 30

While the issue of Ukraine’s possible entry into NATO is currently filling the European press, Macedonia is also facing the issue of accession.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki to discuss the issue on February 14; later that evening she also met with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who delivered Athens’ perspective on the subject (Makfax, February 14).

Speaking to reporters prior to his meeting, Milososki said, “We shall talk about Macedonia’s integration with NATO, developments in Kosovo, the region, and Afghanistan. We shall also pay special attention to the bilateral dispute with Greece. We shall open all topics of Macedonia’s concern – national interests and NATO integration” (Makedonska Informativna Agencija, February 11).

Complicating relations between Athens and Skopje is the long-running dispute over use of the name “Macedonia,” which Macedonia sees as a constitutional issue despite Greek objections. According to Bakoyannis, “Skopje has only one road to NATO and EU – compliance with the principle of good neighborly relations, and this includes a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue,” adding that Skopje “runs a nationalist, anachronistic policy and it tries to monopolize Macedonian identity.” Athens prefers use of the term “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.”

Prior to his consultation with Rice, Milososki took his campaign to Canada, meeting with his Canadian counterpart, Maxime Bernier; Laurie Hawn, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of defense; as well as representatives of the Canada-Macedonia inter-parliamentary group. Milososki reported that Canadian officials had yet again confirmed their support for Macedonia joining the alliance. Milososki said that his discussions confirmed the fact that the question of his country’s formal name “is a closed issue for Ottawa” (Makedonska Informativna Agencija, February 12).

Macedonia and Greece are intensifying their diplomatic lobbying ahead of the upcoming NATO summit, scheduled to convene in Bucharest during the first week of April. While Macedonia is optimistic that it will be invited to join the alliance, Greece is threatening to block Macedonia’s entry unless a solution on the name issue is found.

For its part, Washington is willing to support Macedonia’s aspirations, along with Croatia and Albania, if they meet the alliance criteria. Rice recently told the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, “If they meet the standards, the position of U.S. is that they should be invited to join,” adding that Washington would make a final decision after consulting its allies.

On February 11 Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski discussed Skopje’s ambitions to join NATO during his lecture, “Macedonia’s Future in Unstable Surroundings,” at the 44th Munich International Security Forum. According to him, “For many years Macedonia has been implementing complex reforms in order to meet the criteria for entering the organization, and there are announcements by some NATO members that new, irregular standards for membership could be applied for our country. If it really happened, it would mean unprincipled forcing of individual [preferences] against the collective Alliance’s interests and risky experimenting in a region where the security [and] stabilization processes have not been completed yet” (Makedonska Informativna Agencija, February 11).

After meeting with Crvenkovski at the symposium, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates remarked, “There is and will be membership support until the Bucharest summit. Many NATO allies believe that if one candidate country meets the criteria then it should join the alliance without being given additional membership criteria. Macedonia is not [just] any candidate, but a candidate country that contributes so much, even now in several NATO-led missions” (Makedonska Informativna Agencija, February 10).

By any yardstick the NATO Bucharest summit in April will have a very full agenda. Aside from the aspirations of the “Adriatic Three” (Macedonia, Croatia, and Albania), applications from Georgia and Ukraine will also be considered, both of which are strongly promoted by Washington as much as they are opposed by the Kremlin.

The summit will have at least one attendee who will doubtless have strong opinions on the alliance’s agenda. According to NATO spokesman James Appathurai, “We have received confirmation” that Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend the gathering (Kommersant, February 13). Putin will, at the very least, vociferously argue against Ukraine joining NATO and will be less than enthusiastic about Georgia’s prospects. About the only solace for the officials attending the NATO alliance will be the fact that, as Russia’s presidential elections are scheduled for March 2, Putin is a lame duck.

Putin’s presence is not necessarily a bad thing for Macedonian hopes, however. If the summit is tied up by Russian objections about former Soviet republics joining the alliance, Macedonia might squeeze into the organization almost as an afterthought. Whatever happens, it promises to be the most interesting NATO summit by far for many, many years.