Blue Stream Macedonian Implication

Blue Stream Macedonian Implication


Dusan Sinadinoski

The Russian invasion of Georgia set off an immediate political urgency among NATO leaders regarding its future expansion. In this new political reality, the long overdue Macedonian membership in this military alliance calls for a resolution on a priority basis. Prior to this invasion, the Macedonian accession to NATO was held back by Greek objections over the name dispute even though Macedonia fulfilled all of NATO’s requirements. But the surprising Russian invasion of Georgia suddenly made it much more questionable that Greece would venture to repeat its veto act from Bucharest. As the resurgent Russia shook the foundations of Eurasian geopolitical landscape, NATO no longer enjoys the same luxury of stalling the Macedonian membership. If NATO succumbs to the Greek pressure again and fails to overcome the Greek threat of veto, then NATO will be ultimately responsible for leaving Macedonia outside of its protective umbrella and open to external political influence. Moreover, if Macedonia is left abandoned and forgotten, weak and unprotected, it is more than likely that this maverick country will experience a political and economic breakdown. Thus, if such a meltdown materializes, it could also have a disastrous impact on stability of the neighboring states. Under such chaotic circumstances, Macedonia could easily become a zone of influence for the newly reenergized Russian appetite for expansions.

Any suggestion that the Russians may be planning an immanent invasion of Macedonia would seem like a stretched out imagination. There appears to be no possible reason on the horizon why Russia would even have any remote designs on Macedonia. There are no Russian citizens in Macedonia. Moreover, Macedonia does not share a common border with Russia. Additionally, Macedonia is a small, landlocked country which is of no use to the Russian Black Sea fleet. Also, Macedonia has no known huge deposits of oil and gas that may spike Russia’s interest in Macedonia. Most importantly, however, USA doesn’t plan to host a missile defense shield in Macedonia. Therefore, it’s unrealistic to contend that NATO ought to be concern with a possible Russian political or military involvement in Macedonia.

But Russia’s intent on controlling the production and distribution of Eurasian oil and gas expands far beyond Russian borders and could reach to the remote corners of Europe. The projected route of the Russian Blue Stream Pipeline is presumably designed with a sole purpose of carrying Russian gas to Europe via Balkan countries as an alternative route. However, the projected Blue Stream route raises the possibility of Russia’s long term planning to use its energy power to gain a political foothold in the Balkans. This suggestion maybe debatable, but what is undeniable is that the Blue Stream Pipeline, once it is built, will unavoidably make the Balkan region a part of Russia’s sphere of influence. True, the Blue Stream bypasses Macedonia but this is a minor hurdle that may be easily overcome. “We’re convinced that to deepen our contacts in energy we need to strengthen mutual trust," Putin told presidents of Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Montenegro on January 24th, 2007 in Zagreb, Croatia. Clearly, Mr. Putin seems to suggest that business and politics are two different sides of the same coin. Hence, one can’t rule out the possibility that there will be more than just gas flowing from Russia to the Balkans through the Blue Stream.

In the past, Bulgaria was Russia’s stepping stone whenever an occasion presented itself for getting involved in the Balkan political quagmire. Now that Bulgaria is firmly under NATO’s control, that door is closed to Russia. But Russia knows that the Balkan pot can easily be stirred up by agitating the Macedonian question. For instance, Russia can now turn the page of her own history of fomentation in the Balkans by encouraging the Macedonians in the Pirin region of Bulgaria to demand the right for self-determination. Once this conflagration is started it can be easily spread to the Macedonian minority in Greece. Russia could, moreover, also find a need to come to help their Macedonian Slav brothers to defend their national, cultural and religious identity if the Albanian unrest fares up again. After all, the roots of Russian Orthodoxy and Russian written language are based in Macedonia. Moreover, it is also possible that Russia could start encouraging a new union between Serbs and Macedonians. Therefore, as any aficionado of Balkan history can testify to it, there are plenty of pretexts for the Russian involvement in the Balkan affairs. Thus all Russia needs to do in the Balkans is to stir up the trouble, after that, just like a hurricane gathering strength in the warm ocean waters, it would be very difficult to predict how it would be played out. The danger is that “trouble” in the Balkans almost never ceases to exist out of its own exhaustion.

Taking these possible scenarios as the background, the question which now arises is whether NATO can continue to play politics as usual by allowing Greece to dominate the Macedonian Euro-Atlantic integration! It is more than likely that Greece will assiduously push the idea that now is the last chance for Macedonia to join NATO. This type of strategy is designed to put maximum pressure on Macedonia to accept the Greek compromise on the name. Whereas prior to the Caucasus’ brief but vociferous war, the Greek strategy carried a considerable weight among some of NATO members, the same strategy now appears to be more like a bluff rather than a real treat. In fact, this type of bullying by Greece will hardly surprise anyone because even the Greeks themselves know that the Macedonian bargaining position has now jumped several notches higher. Though it seems somewhat surprising that a similar pressure also came from the US ambassador Jillian Milovanovic and some of NATO’s officials, their pressure was more about trying to close the Macedonian issue rather than forcing Macedonia to accept the Greek compromise. Therefore, there is a good reason to believe that a political urgency is being felt among NATO members to find a way to enlist Macedonia at its next meeting in December.

Georgia’s invasion shows that NATO can no longer afford its individual members to decide the alliance’s future enlargement. As NATO took heed from Russia’s compelling statement about her “near abroad” zone of influence, it now became an imperative for this military alliance to set straight its priorities. NATO no longer has an option to debate on the Greek-Macedonian bilateral issue, but NATO needs to act in face of the Russian expansion. Otherwise, if NATO allows Greece to influence the future of its enlargement process by putting her interest first, than NATO’s future collective ability to act effectively and decisively will be significantly weakened. There can be no doubt that NATO is aware of Greece’s suffocating hold of Macedonia, but will NATO also permit Greece to suffocate the entire Western World? There is nothing Macedonia can do to facilitate NATO’s internal decision-making process. All that Macedonia could do is to be ready to join NATO when the call comes. Undoubtedly, by fulfilling NATO’s requirements and by the resolve to support the fight against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, Macedonia proved that her place is in NATO. But now it is up to NATO to live up to its commitments.

There was a time not so long ago when NATO could afford to take or leave Macedonia, but now that option very quickly vanished away. Nobody could tell for certain what Russia’s future intentions for the Balkans may be, but NATO no longer can stay indifferent to Macedonia. All that NATO really needs is a political will to convince Greece that, in a longer run, Macedonia’s membership in NATO is also in the best interest of Greece. Of course Greece will resist such a pressure, but England and USA should remind Greece of the events immediately following World War II. Surely, nobody wants that, including Greece. True, Stalin is since long gone but Russia now has Mr. Putin. In the same speech in Zagreb, Croatia, Mr. Putin also pointed out that “Russia’s economic activities were aimed at making the region a zone of stability and security”. In light of Georgia’s invasion, the reverberation of these words sounds quite a bit louder now than even last year. For now only Mr. Putin knows what his future intentions are, but the Blue Stream Pipeline is an ominous writing on the wall those who happen to be located in the proximity of its route. There is doubt that Greece, too, understands what these words really signify.

In the aftermath, the Eurasian geopolitical implications following Russia’s invasion of Georgia dwarfs by comparison the Greek irrational strangle hold on Macedonia. NATO’s global interests go beyond the Greek –Macedonian name issue. That is why NATO must find a way in order to make sure that Greece doesn’t again jeopardize Macedonia’s NATO membership.

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