Boris Yeltsin’s Russia was one of the first countries to recognize the southernmost state to split from Yugoslavia as “Republic of Macedonia.” The Kremlin’s stance back then was dictated by the misguided impression that it could revive the pan-Slavist policy of the tzars.
Back in its day, tzarist Russia had scored a short-term success with the Treaty of San Stefano in 1878 after the Russo-Turkish War, which, among other terms, foresaw the creation of an autonomous principality of Bulgaria stretching to the Aegean Sea. That agreement was superseded a few months later by the Treaty of Berlin, however.
Yeltsin’s policy was a similar failure for the simple reason that the former communist countries of the Balkans followed in the footsteps of Central Europe and turned their attention and allegiance to NATO. Just a couple of days ago, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took a step away from Yeltsin’s position, saying that Moscow would accept whatever solution was reached by Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) regarding the latter’s name.
Lavrov was – to a degree of course – correct in pointing out that the name issue came back to the forefront because the United States wants FYROM in NATO, but it is not just Washington that wants to see the small Balkan country in the alliance. At the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis came under more pressure to reach a settlement with Skopje from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice than President George W. Bush.
Lavrov’s position that if there is an agreement between Athens and Skopje and the new name is “ratified” in FYROM’s constitution can be interpreted as being pro-Greece. However, what it is basically is a sign that Moscow is adapting to the new reality in the Balkans, in combination with an effort to interfere with NATO’s enlargement – with Greece’s involvement.
The only country that has made some progress in its national goals is Bulgaria: It recognized the “Republic of Macedonia” but not the “Macedonian” language (or the nation, as a result) and recognized the “Macedonian” Church, without bringing it under the wing of the Bulgarian patriarchate. Albania, meanwhile, is a force in domestic developments within FYROM because of its sizable minority. And Greece, last but not least, is under pressure from its allies. Basically, when Kiro Gligorov proclaimed FYROM’s independence from Yugoslavia, he exposed his country to a mortal risk that neither NATO nor the EU can save it from – a typical Balkan story.