The Republic of Macedonia has been rocked by an intense political crisis over the last few days — and Russia thinks it’s an outside job.
Tens of thousands of Macedonians rallied on May 17 following the release of alleged covert recordings of the government, which show them planning to rig votes and covering-up a murder. On the next day, there was a pro-government rally in response.
Opposition leader Zoran Zev is calling for Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his team to step down. However, the government denies the allegations, and claims that the opposition is trying to “destabilize the country and take credit for the economic expansion.” (Macedonia is expected to outpace its peers with 3.8% growth this year and 3.9% next year, according to IMF figures cited by Bloomberg.)
To most people, the protests in Macedonia probably look like a classic case of The People versus a corrupt government — but not to Moscow.
In fact, the Kremlin believes that what’s going on in Macedonia (and, possibly more concretely, the attempt to oust the Moscow-friendly prime minister) has been orchestrated by outside forces in order to hurt Russia.
On Wednesday Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that “the Macedonian events are blatantly controlled from the outside,” according to Russian state-controlled media outlet TASS.
“They are trying to accuse Gruevski’s government of not fulfilling its obligations to the population. However, the reason behind this is a desire to influence it in connection with its refusal to join anti-Russian sanctions, support of the South Stream and willingness to be involved in the implementation of other options of fuel delivery, including the so-called Turkish Stream,” Lavrov continued.
Russia taking this stance is not unexpected, nor is it without precedent.
“To Team Putin, this is familiar ground: Events are following the same course as in Ukraine in 2013 and 2014, when Viktor Yanukovych’s corrupt regime was ousted by a popular uprising. The Kremlin believes the U.S. fomented similar revolutions in Georgia in 2003, in Ukraine in 2005 and in Moldova in 2009 and made several less successful attempts to bring down pro-Moscow regimes in former Soviet countries. Waves of regime change such as the Arab Spring also fall under Putin’s definition of U.S.-engineered revolutions. The word he uses to describe them is, curiously, the same as Gruevski’s description of the incriminating recordings: “a lesson” for Russia on what to avoid.”
However, all the problems in Macedonia right now predate the Kremlin’s decision to build the Turkish stream — it’s just that nobody cared about them before Russia decided to dip its toes into the former Yugoslav republic, according to Carnegie.ru deputy editor Maxim Samorukov.
“Prime Minister Gruevski has been in power for already nine years — that’s more than a third of the entire history of independent Macedonia. It was already clear a few years ago that he had overstayed his term, lost touch with reality, can’t offer anything for the country, but isn’t leaving voluntarily,” he adds.
Nevertheless, Russia’s clearly feeling worried about what’s going on in light of how it has perceived various revolutions over the last 12 years.