As negotiations between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the Balkan state’s official name gather pace, Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias is due to conduct a landmark visit to Skopje on Thursday.
Kotzias will travel on the first direct flight between Athens and Skopje in nearly 12 years, but his trip comes amid rising tensions over the United Nations-mediated name talks. There is also pressure from outside forces, with Russian officials expressing opposition to Skopje’s aspirations to join NATO and the European Union.
Apart from the significant symbolism of his visit, Kotzias is expected to have very concrete discussions with government officials in FYROM, focusing on a seven-point proposal sent to Skopje by Athens. There appears to be convergence on three of those points: on the name Republika Gorna Makedonija (Republic of Upper Macedonia), on the acronym that will be used, and on Greece’s demand for FYROM to demonstrate its rejection of irredentism.
FYROM’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said Tuesday that Skopje has responded to Greece’s proposals.
Meanwhile it became clear that FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has more to contend with than the opposition of his domestic political rivals.
Following a meeting between Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko and FYROM’s Ambassador to Russia Goce Karajanov, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a terse statement. “The Russian side indicated that plans to pull the Republic of Macedonia into NATO might have negative consequences for regional security and bilateral relations,” it said.
Zaev, for his part, noted that FYROM’s potential accession to NATO “does not mean that we are opposed to furthering our cooperation with the Russian Federation,” adding that boosting ties with Moscow was one of Skopje’s “strategic goals.”