Putin’s Gain May Be EU Loss in Balkan Vacuum, Ivanov Says

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Macedonian Rally
People take part in a rally in central Skopje demanding that the government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski step down, on May 17. Photographer: Robert Atanasovski/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin is getting an opportunity to expand his influence in the Balkans, said the leader of the Republic of Macedonia, a landlocked state in southeastern Europe.

Gjorge Ivanov, president of the former Yugoslav republic, said a failure by the European Union and NATO to provide some countries in the region with a path toward membership has cleared the way for Russia’s ambitions.

“Obviously, the EU forgot about geography,” Ivanov, 55, said in an interview in Bratislava, Slovakia on Sunday. “But Russia excels at geography.”

“If you create a vacuum, someone will be willing to fill it,” said Ivanov, whose second five-year term ends in 2019.

The Balkan peninsula’s patchwork of ethnic groups have often been at the center of colliding spheres of influence. The political boundaries that emerged from the bloody Yugoslav breakup are the newest arena in the struggle the pits Russia against the U.S. and its allies.

Ivanov didn’t offer any examples of what he said was Russia’s expanding presence. And while he warns of Putin’s growing influence, his premier, Nikola Gruevski, supports plans for a Russian gas pipeline to Europe that would run through Macedonia in an attempt to sideline an existing supply route through Ukraine.

A battle between suspected Albanian militants and local police left 22 dead last month in the nation of about 2 million people, of quarter of which is ethnic Albanian. The clashes threatened to reignite tensions that have been simmering in the region since the 1990s when ethnic warfare engulfed the region.

Bond Rout

The violence helped send the country’s euro-denominated bond due in July 2021 to a record low last month. The yield declined 4 basis points, or 0.04 percentage points, from the day before to 4.554 percent at 2:23 p.m. on Tuesday. The yield was 3.56 percent on April 13, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The Finance Ministry in the capital Skopje on Tuesday sold 150 million denars ($2.7 million) of six-month Treasury bills at an average yield of 1.25 percent.

Markets were also roiled by a wire-tapping scandal that’s triggered the country’s worst political crisis in more than a decade. The opposition accuses government officials, including Gruevski, of abuse of power and is demanding he step down. The administration denies wrongdoing.

Name Debate

The former Yugoslav republic, a candidate for EU membership for a decade, has been hampered to join the world’s largest trading bloc by neighboring Greece, which objects to the use of name Macedonia that is also a northern province of the Mediterranean country.

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Relations with Greece are unlikely to improve much in the short term, Ivanov said.

“We wouldn’t have had many of the problems we’re now facing if we had started the EU accession process and reformed our society step by step,” Ivanov said. “No one is able to transform on their own.”

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