SKOPJE– In a move reflecting the broader geopolitical tensions in the region, North Macedonia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the expulsion of three Russian diplomats in September. North Macedonian news agency MakFax reports that the decision came after allegations of activities violating the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and subsequent invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, North Macedonia, along with many other nations, imposed sanctions on Russia. The country’s parliament, in a rare show of unity, overwhelmingly supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. President Stevo Pendarovski, backed by the ruling SDSM party, condemned Russia’s actions, labeling them a “serious violation of international law” and a threat to European stability.
While North Macedonia, a NATO member, has opted to provide military equipment to Ukraine, it has refrained from deploying troops. The specifics of the aid remain classified, but Defense Minister Slavjanka Petrovska assured that this assistance would not diminish the Macedonian Army’s capabilities.
The conflict and North Macedonia’s stance have stirred debates within the nation. While a significant portion of the ethnic Macedonian community holds pro-Russian views, the Albanian population largely condemns Russia’s actions. Social media platforms, especially Facebook, have become battlegrounds for these discussions.
Janko Bacev, leader of the pro-Russian United Macedonia party, criticized Ukrainian President Zelensky and NATO’s role in the conflict. However, Tito Petkovski, leader of the New Social Democratic Party, believes that the Macedonian support for Putin stems from a desire for strong leadership and frustration with the West, particularly the EU’s enlargement failures.
Andreja Stojkovski, director of the Prespa Institute, countered this narrative, suggesting that much of the pro-Russian sentiment online might be amplified by bots and fake news.
Amidst these debates, the Association of Ukrainians in North Macedonia organized a protest against Russia’s actions, drawing support from many Macedonians. Since the conflict’s onset, approximately a thousand Ukrainian refugees have sought shelter in North Macedonia.
According to a statement from North Macedonia’s MFA, Russia’s ambassador to North Macedonia was summoned on September 12 to the Ministry and was handed a diplomatic note declaring three diplomats in the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Skopje as persona non grata.
Image source: W. Bulach / Wikimedia
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