Two famous Russian pranksters impersonated former Ukrainian President Poroshenko and got the Macedonian Prime Minister to spill some state secrets, the most important of which is the head of state’s suspicion that Serbia is doing Russia’s bidding by negotiating a territorial swap with its NATO-occupied Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija.
Everyone in the Republic of Macedonia is talking about the latest Russia-related scandal in their country, but unlike practically every other one across the world, this time the Eurasian Great Power isn’t being accused of any foul play whatsoever. Rather, two of its famous pranksters impersonated former Ukrainian President Poroshenko when speaking with the Macedonian Prime Minister on at least three occasions over the past 12 months, resulting in two possibly illegal admissions by the Balkan country’s head of state. Zaev reacted positively when advised to rig last September’s name referendum and even expressed interest in bribing Patriarch Bartholomew $100,000 to recognize the Macedonian Orthodox Church. Furthermore, the very conversations themselves violated diplomatic protocols by taking place outside of established and secure channels of communication that could have otherwise prevented this from happening, thus leading to Zaev revealing confidential information about the political positions of third-party states like Greece in one instance.
Whether the Russian pranksters’ intentions were innocent or insidious, the unmistakable outcome is that their “joke” has had a profound strategic impact on the political situation in Macedonia, though it also led to their target reaffirming some “politically uncomfortable” suspicions about Russia’s role in the Balkans. Zaev spoke several times about how he believes that Russia is behind Serbia’s willingness to negotiate a territorial swap with its NATO-occupied Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija, which he says could create a new standard in International Relations if it’s successful that would subsequently legitimize Russia’s reunification with Crimea and possibly forthcoming union with Abkhazia as well as Turkey’s formal incorporation of the Ankara-recognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, strongly suggesting that President Putin might be pressuring his Serbian counterpart to agree to that deal in order to advance both his own nation’s interests but also its newfound Turkish partner’s too (which could also apply to Northern Syria one day).
It needs to emphasized that the prank recordings don’t contain any smoking gun proving that this is the case, but it’s nevertheless significant that Zaev is convinced that it’s true and felt passionately enough about it to repeatedly warn the fake Poroshenko about this supposed scheme. Not only that, but it retroactively confirms the author’s own view expressed earlier this year that the influential Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) think tank’s proposal to go along with Timothy Less’ plan to geopolitically re-engineer the Balkans might be gaining support in the Kremlin. Not only that, but it could also explain why Russia recognized Macedonia’s unconstitutional “name change” since that move is part and parcel of the “New Balkans” vision articulated by the former British diplomat and supported by one of Moscow’s top policy-making institutions. Whatever the reality may be, it’s still significant enough that at least one regional head of state suspects Moscow of pursuing this grand strategic end, which will likely keep people in the Balkans talking for quite a while.
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