Russia’s taken an aggressive interest in a tiny Balkan state’s political turmoil — and it’s connected to Moscow’s latest gas pipeline agenda.
Last weekend the Republic of Macedonia was rocked by anti-government protests and pro-government counter-protests following the release of covert recordings that allegedly show the government planning to rig votes and covering up a murder.
The still-in-charge Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is openly Moscow-friendly. He’s has taken a stance against the Western sanctions on Russia and supports the proposed Russian gas pipeline that would probably go through Macedonia.
Against this backdrop, it looks like Russia’s worried about the possibility of a new anti-Moscow government, which could potentially weaken the Kremlin’s position. (Especially because Moscow has traditionally used its arsenal of gas pipelines as tools of coercion in Europe.)
On Wednesday Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that “the Macedonian events are blatantly controlled from the outside,” according to Russian state-controlled media outlet TASS.
“They are trying to accuse Gruevski’s government of not fulfilling its obligations to the population.
“However, the reason behind this is a desire to influence it in connection with its refusal to join anti-Russian sanctions, support of the South Stream and willingness to be involved in the implementation of other options of fuel delivery, including the so-called Turkish Stream,” he said.
“I don’t have any hard-line facts, but it’s a logical suspicion,” Vladimir Chizhov, the Russian ambassador to the EU, told Bloomberg TV in an interview when asked about the claims.
“If you look at the geography of the region, Macedonia is the best place for constructing the extension of the newest energy infrastructure project in the region, the so-called Turkish Stream,” he added.
The Turkish Steam, an OAO Gazprom project, was announced back in January after the company abandoned the $45 billion South Stream project in December.
The key geopolitical takeaway regarding both projects is that they’re supposed to bypass crumbling Ukraine — which would allow Russia to both maintain its gas leverage over the EU and to hurt Kiev.
“To help Gazprom reach Central European markets, Russia has advocated the construction of a pipeline that would run from Greece to Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary,” analysts from Texas-based consulting firm Stratfor wrote in a report, according to Bloomberg.
“These four countries are at the center of a Russian diplomatic offensive.”
Although some analysts have expressed doubts over the projects, “the Russians seem determined to let their transit contract with Ukraine expire by 2019 in favor of the alternative route under the Black Sea. Gazprom has already laid 472 kilometers (293 miles) of the so-called Southern Corridor, the onshore part of the pipeline in Russia, in anticipation of the deal,” according to Bloomberg.
In any case, it looks like Russia might be closely monitoring the political conflict in Macedonia with the goal of avoiding another Ukraine circa 2013-2014, when pro-Kremlin Yanukovych’s regime was kicked out by the masses.