NATO summit raises more questions in its wake
The obstreperous and much publicised presence of U.S. President Donald Trump during the NATO summit in Brussels last week has given us plenty of thoughts. Especially to those in Europe, who have come to realize that this new unorthodox, undiplomatic and fickle style of doing business is here to stay. And if this is something that leaders like Angela Merkel or Theresa May probably found difficult to stomach, we saw that the General Secretary of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, readily accepted it as the new order of the day. His silence during the statements of Trump as soon as he arrived in Brussels against Merkel’s Germany of not fulfilling its financial commitments to NATO, was enough for everybody to get the point: That U.S. is determined that NATO has to increase its presence and influence in Europe and every country, richer or poorer will have to contribute to the Alliance.
There may have been a lot of criticism in the European media over the “dealer-like” style of the American President whose sole preoccupation seems to be how to bring money back the money that his predecessors had wasted to America; there were also many who thought that he had a point in asking the Europeans to stop dodging their agreed contribution to the coffers of NATO. Hence, at the end of the Brussels NATO summit Trump could be proud that he made everybody agree on fulfilling their commitments eventually.
The recent developments in the Balkans are a worrying signal of the antagonism between Kremlin and NATO. During the NATO summit in Brussels last week Stoltenberg on behalf of the Alliance made a formal invitation to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to start membership talks and eventually “once national procedures are completed and all NATO allies have ratified it” to become the 30th member of the alliance.”
This small country has been at the center of intense diplomatic activity during the last weeks. When Stoltenberg spoke of “national procedures” he was referring of the procedures that follow a bilateral agreement between Skopje and Athens to resolve the decades old dispute over the use of the name Macedonia by FYROM-a name claimed originally by Greece as one of its regions where the capital of the old Kingdom of Macedonia lies. The agreement solved the dispute by both parties agreeing on the name Republic of Northern Macedonia as the official name of Greece’s small neighbour. However, there are still strong opposition to the agreement in both countries while it must be endorsed in both parliaments and a referendum by Skopje in order to be validated.
Yet the prospect of FYROM-North Macedonia becoming part of NATO has angered Russia who sees the eastward expansion of the alliance as a military threat. Russia believes that FYROM was “forced” into NATO and will become “a tool to gain control of geopolitical territory.”
While Zaev has stated openly that Moscow has been trying to meddle with his country’s effort to join NATO, it was the shocking events last week in Greece that have thrown more light on the undeclared war between NATO and Russia.
Greece, a country historically close to Russia, expelled two Russian diplomats last week and barred two Russian nationals from entering the country. The reason: Moscow tried to inflame public reaction in Greece against the agreement with Skopje in an effort to block its NATO membership. It did that, by bribing officials, businessmen, clergy and extreme right groups. An exclusive story in the Financial Times gave more details of the persons involved, whose activities apparently centred in the city of Alexandroupolis on the borders with Turkey.
The unexpectedly strong reaction by Greece to a fellow Christian Orthodox nation with a strong historical bond is indicative of a dangerous increase of tension in the Balkans as the expansion of NATO into the region is gathering pace. Montenegro was the last country of the region to join NATO and if all goes well FYROM will be joining next, followed by Bosnia-Herzegovina leaving just Serbia out and close to Moscow.
Last week president Trump pointed out that some NATO countries are poorer than others but he said “we will help them in paying their dues to the alliance”. He made no secret of his determination to make the alliance bigger and full functioning preferably with American technology which he said is “the best in the world”.
But some are worried and remind us of the warning by Putin’s spokesman in 2015 at the start of Montenegro’s accession talks to NATO: “Moscow has always said that the continued expansion of NATO and its military infrastructure towards the east cannot but lead to a response from the east, which is from Russia.”