Macedonian (aka FYROM) Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has claimed that he has reached an agreement with his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras on renaming the country. The Macedonian naming issue has been the source of a decades long dispute between Skopje and Athens. Thus far, the dispute has led to Greece preventing its northern neighbour from joining either the EU or NATO, something which ironically many Macedonians believe is a blessing in disguise.
Recent years have seen a shift in the strategic balance of power in the western Balkans as Turkey has pivoted close to its historic opponent Serbia. This has been due to a number of factors but the most potent and immediate factor has been Albania’s lack of willingness to cooperate with Turkey over the vast amount of operatives living freely in Albania who are members of the Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO). Similar concerns from Ankara regarding the ethnic Albanian regime occupying the Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija have also been voiced and the lack of support from the regime in Pristina to crack down on FETO has been a further factor in pushing Belgrade and Anakra closer together.
At the same time, while Russia retains good relations with its fraternal Serbian ally, as part of Moscow’s win-win approach to geopolitical partnerships, Russia has also engaged in a historic rapprochement with Croatia, thus proving the Russia’s appeal in the Balkans is not strictly limited to its Orthodox brethren. All the while, the increased tensions between Greece and Turkey have recently been compounded by Greece and Cyprus cooperating militarily and in the fields of energy with Turkey’s new regional rival “Israel”.
The always bad and now seemingly worse (at least superficially) Turko-Hellenic relationship has led Turkey to take sides with Slavic Macedonian nationalists over the naming dispute. This itself has set a Turko-Macedonian nationalist informal partnership against the desires of pro-US ethnic Albanian factions in Macedonia who like the government in Albania and the regime in Pristina are little more than clients of the US strategic mission to “NATOise” and “EUise” the western Balkans and as such, represent the core of support for Zaev’s name change initiative.
Against this background, the domestically controversial Macedonian Premier Zoran Zaev has been under intense US pressure to finalise a name change agreement with Athens that has enraged Macedonian nationalists, made some Greeks happy, while also angering other Greeks based on rumours that the name “Macedonia” will still be part of the new name of the Former Yugoslav Republic that Greek nationalists insist has no rights to the name “Macedonia” in any form.
But while the Athens-Skopje row has a certain parochial quality to it, the consequences are far reaching. The US is keen to isolate Turkey and Russia in the Balkans, in spite of the fact that both Turkey and Russia have centuries of history in the region. After Montenegro joined NATO last year in a move that remains deeply unpopular with the Slavic Orthodox population of the small state, the US is keen on isolating Russia, Serbia and Turkey by bringing as many west Balkan states into the American sphere as possible.
While it might seem counter intuitive to think that Macedonia joining NATO in a post name change world might infuriate long time NATO member Turkey, in reality, Turkey’s NATO membership exists more at a bureaucratic level than a political or militarily cooperative level in 2018. In terms of Ankara’s policies, Turkey remains extremely independent of any major bloc or alliance. Furthermore, many in Turkey are now questioning the long term viability of NATO membership while a Tukish exit from NATO would give many in the US State Department further encouragement to grow even closer with FETO, a terror group whose goal remains violent regime change in Anakara. Even while in NATO, a FETO coup was attempted in 2016 – one which Russia instantly condemned but which the US remained mum about for years. Thus, there is little love lost between the pro-YPG/PKK/FETO US and Turkey.
Therefore, from Washington’s perspective, the sooner Skopje and Athens solve their naming issue, the sooner a post-name change Macedonia can be fast-tracked into NATO and the EU. While Macedonia is not of any great military importance, isolating the staunchly anti-NATO Serbia all the while effectively marking the western Balkans as ‘US territory’ against the wishes of both Russia and Turkey, serves an overt US geo-strategic goal of taking the Balkans out of Moscow and Ankara’s reach.
Because Turkey and Russia have both regained their former geopolitical weight under Presidents Erdoga and Putin, respectively, the US needs to move fast in order to take the region out of the immediate reach of Turkey and Russia. In Macedonia Premier Zaev has been all too willing to oblige Washington on every front.
Therefore, if the Greeks get what they have long wished for in terms of a name change to the north, it will not be because the US and EU have fallen in love with the Hellenic stance on Macedonia, it will be because they want the Balkans to become a part of America’s orbit rather than part of Turkey’s.
Therefore, because of the fanatical US desire to drive Turkey’s influence out of the Balkans, Washington is pushing for a name change that has nothing to do with American support for Hellenic claims to the Macedonian namesake.