If Powell was concerned about the violence in the Balkans, Pompeo today turned on the alarm about the danger of harmful influences from the East, the purpose of which is to obstruct the connection of the Balkan countries with the West.
Author: Xhelal Neziri
In April 2001, for the first time a senior United States (US) official landed in North Macedonia. It was about the general, Colin Powell, the man most trusted by former President Young George Bush. He came at a crucial time for the country and the region – in the midst of an inter-ethnic conflict that threatened to spread to other hotspots in the Balkans. “Violence will not function,” was Powel’s message after closed-door meetings with state and political leaders in Skopje, Pristina and Sarajevo.
After 18 years in this small Balkan country with 2 million inhabitants, another secretary of state landed again. It’s Mike Pompeo who paid an important visit to a turbulent region on Friday, where the interests of some regional and global political actors meet.
In contrast to Powell, who discussed the presence of US peacekeepers in the country involved in the conflict, Pompeo came on the eve of N. Macedonia’s full NATO membership and its military presence in the Far East. One big positive change: for less than two decades from a consumer of security, the country has become its guarantor. Moreover, it is estimated that this breakthrough will bring N. Macedonia further progress after formally becoming a 30th member of the North Atlantic Alliance. “I am convinced that the US Senate will ratify the accession protocol this fall so that we can formally join the NATO team,” secretary Pompeo said.
Pompeo met with President Stevo Pendarovski and Prime Minister Zoran Zaev to discuss expanding and strengthening economic and security relations with the West. “Malicious Russian and Chinese influence is a danger to the country,” was his message after meeting with the head of state in Skopje. “Strong democracies must also respond to the concerns of the public and take strong measures to resist and protect against malign influences. The hearts and minds of the citizens of North Macedonia must lead your country forward, not Russia’s harmful actions on social media. “
If Powell was concerned about the violence in the Balkans, Pomepo today turned on the alarm about the danger of harmful influences from the East, the purpose of which is to obstruct the connection of the Balkan countries with the West. Russia has increased its presence in N. Macedonia since the last political crisis in 2015, warning the country that NATO membership would turn this small piece of territory into a legitimate target for Russia. Former Russian ambassador Oleg Shchebak said this last year. Although the Russian economic presence in Macedonia is minor compared to Western countries, it still has a major impact by exploiting religious and cultural relations with Macedonian ethnicity. In this context, the “Russian bots on social media” also play a major propaganda role, as mentioned by Pompeo who influence the new media public with anti-Western ideology. The deep penetratuion of Russia into state institutions, various organizations, and in the sphere of culture seems to increase the American focus in N. Macedonia and the region, spaces that are characterized by high vulnerability when it comes to security.
Meanwhile, China does not threaten Western interests in the political sphere but in the economic one. Due to its cheap labor force, good position for penetration and a stronger presence in the large European market and the easy provision of favors through the corruption of state-owned officials, China at once is increasing its economic presence in the Balkans. About 5 billion $ of investments are concentrated in Albania, Serbia, N. Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The West’s concern is that Chinese investment through lending only increases the public debt of the Balkan states, which may then become politically dependent on China. Even more when Chinese investments have begun to penetrate the technological realm, through the construction of 5g networks, as is the case in Serbia.
That the US is increasing its presence in the Balkans is not only indicative of Secretary Pompeo’s visit. After resolving the name issue between North Macedonia and Greece, the agreement between Kosovo and Serbia is the next mission to stabilize the Balkans. Following Matthew Palmer’s appointment as a special envoy to the Balkans, President Donald Trump nominated US Ambassador in Germany, Richard A. Grenell, to represent Pristina-Belgrade talks, expected to intensify following the October 6th parliamentary elections in Kosovo. Grenell has been the United States ambassador in Germany since May last year. He is a foreign policy expert, a founder of “Capitol Media Partners” in 2010, which provides foreign affairs consulting. Ambassador Grenell has been the spokesman for the United States Embassy to the United Nations for seven years, 2001-2008, holding this post longer than any other ambassador, serving four different ambassadors. He holds a Master of Public Administration degree from Harvard University. / PSC