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Opinion
Leonid Bershidsky

Putin Has Lost His Influence in the Balkans

Russia continues to sow discord, but its clout in most of the former Yugoslavia is gone.

An ancient dispute.

An ancient dispute.

Photographer: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

 

Russia has largely lost its fight for influence in the Balkans: Nine of the area’s 12 countries (plus Kosovo, which is not a United Nations member) are in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and all the Balkan nations are either in the European Union or aspire to be in it. And yet the Kremlin won’t give up, and appears to be waging a not-so-covert war against a deal between Greece and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia that removes one of the last barriers to the region’s European integration.

The deal reached last month between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev resolves a longstanding dispute over Macedonia’s name that has prevented the country from joining NATO and the European Union. Under the compromise, the country will change its official name to North Macedonia; its inhabitants and their language will continue to be be described with the adjective “Macedonian.” Greece’s northern region will still be called Macedonia.