Greece and Macedonia, the latter a former part of Yugoslavia, have been feuding over the formal name of the Balkan state for decades.
Greece, already possessing a historic region with the same name, views the northern state of Macedonia, a former Greek territory, as a mockery and affront to its heritage and culture.
The two nations have remained in conflict since the early 1990s, with Greece barring Macedonia from joining the EU and NATO. However, the two countries ended the 27-year conflict as part of a deal in June, with Macedonia agreeing to change its name to Northern Macedonia.
Macedonia is now actively seeking membership in NATO, with talks set to begin next week in Brussels.
However, multiple media outlets have reported on Russia’s attempt to manipulate the results of a public referendum held in September to officially authorize the name change. In addition, Russia has used Ivan Savvidis, a Greek billionaire with Kremlin ties, to prevent Macedonia’s NATO entry, according to the New York Times.
U.S. officials say communications were intercepted in June implicating Savvidis as a Russian utility being used to subvert Macedonia’s agreement with Greece. The U.S. turned over the evidence to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, causing him to ban and expel four Russian diplomats in July.
Christopher Hill, a former U.S. ambassador to Macedonia, said the American government is “pushing back and showing that we can play hardball too,” regarding Russian attempts to interfere.
Despite the Kremlin’s covert efforts, Macedonia’s name change campaign has continued to advance in parliament. However, Macedonian MPs are under pressure to work quickly and amend the constitution, as it will take at least three months before the new name can be formally adopted due to required, lengthy parliamentary procedures.
[The Guardian] [CNN] [BalkanInsight] [Photo courtesy AFP via The Guardian]