Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar’s visit to Skopje on Wednesday, just a day after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was there with a large entourage of ministers and businessmen, is seen in Greece as an indication of Turkey’s growing concern over Athens’s new role in North Macedonia after the ratification of the Prespes agreement.
The main purpose of Akar’s visit to North Macedonia was to apply pressure on its government to extradite supporters of Fethullah Gulen – the exiled Turkish cleric accused by Ankara of orchestrating the failed coup in 2016 – but to also pledge that his country is prepared to help in the modernization of the Balkan country’s army.
However, keen on showcasing Turkey’s role in the region, Akar said Ankara “supports any initiative of North Macedonia in the path of strengthening its Euro-Atlantic ties.”
During his visit on Tuesday, Tsipras and his counterpart Zoran Zaev agreed that North Macedonia’s armed forces will be trained by the Greek military and Greek jets will patrol its skies as part of an agreement with NATO.
The military dimension of the relationship between Athens and Skopje will put Greece on a par with Bulgaria and Turkey in the region, to the chagrin of Ankara and Sofia, which have long-established close military ties with North Macedonia.
The bilateral deals signed by Greece and North Macedonia on Tuesday are expected to create an equal amount of challenges.
A case in point is the concerns of Greek companies, particularly in northern Greece, which use Macedonia or variations of it for their name or their products, that they will be confused on international markets with North Macedonian companies and products.
Tsipras and Zaev agreed to set up a committee to deal with the issue, but analysts say this will not be enough to resolve it.