Athens, Greece, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) According to Charles Michel, president of the European Council, both Moldova and Ukraine have been given EU candidate status. Prior to the EU’s decision, the leaders of six Balkan nations expressed dissatisfaction on June 23 with the slow progress being made on their membership applications. But there might be another way, through the NATO umbrella for harmonization of the Alliance projects.
The European security and defense identity (ESDI) was developed within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) alliance to strengthen European participation in security matters while reinforcing transatlantic cooperation. Perhaps it is time not for a new mechanism but the unification of the region under the NATO banner.
Brussels Morning, in a long discussion with University Professor Marjan Gjurovski, Doctor of Security and Defense Sciences and Professor at the University “St. Cyril and Methodius”, Skopje presents the future of southeast Europe from a security perspective.
BM: NATO is the primary institution responsible for Balkan stability. How does NATO ensure security in Southeast Europe amid the war in Ukraine?
The Madrid Summit is an important milestone in the ongoing adjustment of NATO to deal with threats and challenges from any direction. They include terrorism, cyber-attacks, hybrid, and other asymmetric threats, as well as disinformation campaigns, climate change, and activities in the universe. A broad approach to security also involves a strong focus on Resistance – NATO’s first line of defense. Leaders are expected to make decisions about maintaining technology advantage, including through the new accelerator for defense innovation for North Atlantic and Innovation Fund, to support start-up companies and develop cutting-edge solutions to security challenges. Our country’s values and goals completely overlap with the values and goals of all of our allies and the Alliance itself. We firmly believe that NATO’s actions are an added value to all of our individual efforts in reaffirming the need for peace, security, and stability, on a global scale, but also focusing on the Euro-Atlantic area, Europe, and the Balkans. Living in peace, security and prosperity is the profit we all as allies have, under the umbrella of our collective defense. North Macedonia’s membership in the Alliance although long overdue, was the best possible decision, especially in these critical times for the continent. Looking from today’s perspective, NATO membership for the countries in the Balkans is, quite possibly, the best way to guarantee that the instabilities in Eastern Europe won’t spill over to our region. North Macedonia has always strived for good neighborly relations and sincere cooperation with all of its neighbors. We made some bold decisions for our citizens and for the entire region in the past couple of years and those decisions in today’s reality proved to be the best course of action. To answer directly – North Macedonia’s membership in NATO is profitable for the Alliance as a whole, for all Allies, but mostly for the peace, security, and stability of the country and the region. The concept of a 360-degree Alliance is one NATO officials often use when referring to the ability of the Alliance to deal with threats coming from various directions. It is time to adopt the 360-degree approach and refocus NATO’s efforts toward the Eastern flank. From this perspective, the NATO 360-degree approach to security could be seen in two dimensions: first, as a catchy expression of the underline strategic complexities of the current challenges to transatlantic security; and second as a public diplomacy tool to communicate cohesion and an equal readiness of to address threats to their security. Yet, creating a perfect balance has proven to be an impossible task, as the scope and type of threats vary across regions. Some even argue that not all threats are created equal, as the Alliance is prepared to address non-military challenges. Russian assertiveness will not go away if it is not properly addressed. How to deal with Russia and its constant threat to Ukrainian security seems to constitute a crucial question for NATO. The consistent and persistent response on the Eastern flank has been a good start for the Alliance. NATO’s response, spearheaded by the presence and deterrence of Russia, did not stop Moscow from continuous harassment of NATO’s member states and its partners in Eastern Europe. Finally, as it seems that Russia has been increasingly developing non-military means to challenge NATO and the West, the Alliance would need to develop its own capabilities to fight disinformation, disruption, and cyberattacks as the lines between peace and war have become ever more blurred. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a country where proxies operate and could try to destabilize it. The best response to any possibility of destabilization in the region is integration. North Macedonia’s membership in NATO was another significant pillar of stability in the Balkans. The fact is that we couldn’t have imagined that in the 21 st century and open invasion of one nation to another sovereign nation in Europe was possible and yet today it is the reality we are living in. The security architecture of the continent has changed and we have to be vigilant. And not only that – we have to invest in our democracies more, we have to cooperate more and do more for our collective security.
BM: Have you noticed any social or ethnic groups that openly support Putin and the war in Ukraine? What is the rhetoric on social media? Could we claim that there is an organized propaganda plan?
MG: Russia’s activities, supported by proxies, aim to create strategic dilemmas and undermine the credibility of both NATO and the EU. The absence of a credible European and Euro-Atlantic perspective for the Western Balkans has multiple negative tendencies. NATO’s Open-Door Policy has been a historic success, providing durable peace and security across the European continent. EU enlargement augmented security and consolidated democracy. We must maintain the credibility of both policies to further reinforce our security and close the vacuum for Russia. In addition, across the Western Balkans, we see an increase in hybrid challenges, cyber-attacks, and foreign malign interference. We should not forget that Russia has been very active in Western Balkans, exploiting vulnerabilities, fueling tensions, and creating strategic dilemmas for NATO and the EU, as a distraction from other theatres. Furthermore, instability elevates the challenges of illegal migration, and the Russian war in Ukraine impacts energy and food security adding to the deterioration of the social and political situation. The modus operandi of Russian foreign policy and Russian intelligence services (RRS) is the same in Europe and the Balkans but is always tailored to local occasions. Different parts of the Russian hybrid apparatus are used to varying degrees and extent according to local or regional application needs. To expand its influence in the region, Russia’s foreign policy Federation (RF) uses classical political means of influence, penetration of Russian intelligence services (RRS) in the political and business elites of individual countries, economic means of influence, energy means for influence, spreads its influence through the media, culture, academic environment, various governmental and non-governmental organizations that originate in the Russian Federation or are formed in individual countries, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), the also uses the RRS-organized crime (OK) link, as well as bilateral military cooperation and its military-industrial complex. The latest tool of the RF is the combined influence of common interest on the foreign policy of many countries. The mixture of influence from the different tools used by RF constructs a hybrid apparatus of influence.
The Balkan region is part of a hybrid conflict between the West and Russia. The main goal of Russia’s strategy for the Balkans is to slow down NATO and the EU the integration of the countries of the Region and the corruption of the democratic systems and spreading distrust towards NATO and the EU. Propaganda is traditional Russian a measure toward the Balkans, which targets the Slavic Orthodox communities, a The main message is the “special connection” they have with the Russians. The four specific objectives of the Russian Federation (RF) are 1. Influence on the decision-making process in each individual state of The region. 2. Conquering the “hearts and minds” of the peoples of the Region. 3. Erosion of institutions and the political system through the incitement of distrust of democratic and state institutions, as well as intra-ethnic, interethnic, social, cultural, and political polarization of societies, which leads to bad governance in each individual state of the Region. 4. Increasing energy dependence in the Region. Russian mode operands of projecting influence in the Balkans are implemented through the following tools of their hybrid apparatus: 1. Classic foreign policy means of influence. 2. Penetration of RRS in the social elite and the institutions of the individual countries through direct or indirect corruption. 3. Open or covert support of political parties or groups in individual countries in the region and interference in election processes and campaigns. 4. Economic assets: financial companies, businesses, and Russian oligarchs. 5. Energy as a geopolitical tool: the region is dependent on Russia’s energy sources (oil, gas, atomic energy). 6. Propaganda through media and social networks. 7. Designing impact through culture, academia, sports, and more social groups and phenomena that shape the worldview of the population. 8. Governmental and non-governmental organizations originating from the Russian Federation or established in individual countries. The most active in the region are Rossotrudnichestvo and Ruski peace (Russian world). 9. Influence on different marginal groups: Night Wolves biker club, associations of war veterans and active security personnel, cheering groups, etc. 10. Russian Orthodox Church (ROC): The ROC and the ruling elite are acting through a complementary relationship of mutual cooperation based on ideology, which as a paradigm is embedded in the culture of Russian society. In the center RPC level directly cooperates with the MFA and RRS. 11. Coalition RRS – organized crime. 12. Bilateral military cooperation and the Russian military-industrial complex. 13. The latest tool of RF is the combined influence of common interest in the foreign policy of many countries. Commonly used tactics and techniques of RF in the Balkans: use “Windows of opportunity”, information operations, reflective control, maintaining, amplifying, and creating “frozen conflicts” and using “Influential Russian businessmen”. At the moment, points with the largest “window of opportunity” in the Balkans, ie “Hot spots” are the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue, the situation in BiH related to R. Serbian. Russia’s actions in the Balkans are part of Putin’s broader strategy for undermining democracy and Western values throughout the Western world in order to strengthen the positions of the RF. Actively participates in the international scene and creates an image of a world power that has a constructive role in international relations, but essentially keeps them open and frozen conflicts. Use a nonlinear approach to create the perception that Western values are false and that the EU and the US are unsuccessful actors in The Balkans.
BM: North Macedonia had been a NATO partner country since 1995 and has contributed significantly to many programs. Would you think it would be possible to see another Camp Bondsteel in the region, after Alexandroupolis port-city in Greece?
MG: Krivolak military range is a unique, unique facility of this type in the region, which offers extremely realistic training conditions, and an example of this is the completed exercise “Swift Response” which was an air exercise that is realized for the first time at this range. The development of this range is high on the agenda of the Ministry of Defense as one of the most important priorities and therefore investment in its development will continue in the future.
The partners were impressed by what can be seen on “Krivolak” both in terms of the size of the range and in terms of the opportunities it offers and the potential it has. The largest exercise ever hosted by Northern Macedonia, “Swift Response 22”, which included 4,600 soldiers from 8 allied armies, was realized at this military range in the Republic of North Macedonia.