Belgrade denounces ‘offensive activity’ by Macedonia

Anger ignites over neighbour’s improving links with former Serbian region of Kosovo

The closed Serbian embassy in Skopje,   Macedonia. Serbia has abruptly recalled its diplomats from Macedonia and accused it of “offensive activity”. Photograph: Georgi Licovski/EPA

The closed Serbian embassy in Skopje, Macedonia. Serbia has abruptly recalled its diplomats from Macedonia and accused it of “offensive activity”. Photograph: Georgi Licovski/EPA

 

Serbia has abruptly recalled its diplomats from Macedonia and accused it of “offensive activity”, in apparent anger at its neighbour’s improving relations with Kosovo, a former Serbian region whose independence Belgrade refuses to recognise.

The spat comes at a delicate time for Macedonia, as a new government seeks to rebuild its relations with its neighbours and revive its bids for EU and Nato accession, following a long and sometimes-violent political crisis that prompted allegations of covert Russian and Serbian meddling in the country’s affairs.

More than 110 states acknowledge Kosovo’s sovereignty, but Belgrade and its main ally Moscow are still working to block the mostly ethnic Albanian country from international institutions such as the United Nations.

The row seems to have been triggered by Macedonia’s government suggesting it would vote in line with most EU members in any ballot on Kosovo’s request to join the UN cultural agency Unesco, which Serbia and Russia managed to block two years ago.

‘Clear evidence’

Serbian foreign minister Ivica Dacic said on Monday that “it has been determined unambiguously, with clear evidence, that there has been increased offensive activity against the Republic of Serbia” in Macedonia.

Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia’s president, added: “We will build good relations with Skopje, but relations will have to be based on mutual respect. We will see whether the Albanians will go on with including Kosovo in Unesco, and then we will wait for what Skopje and Podgorica say. It is up to us to prepare ourselves and to be able to respond.”

Skopje and Podgorica are the capitals of Macedonia and Montenegro respectively, two countries that are pushing hard for deeper accession with the EU and Nato and seeking to shun the influence of Russia and, to some extent, Serbia.

‘Foreign element’

Mr Dacic said a “foreign” element was involved in the dispute, without giving details, and predicted that most of Serbia’s embassy staff would return to Skopje next week after discussions in Belgrade and a meeting with Mr Vucic.

The foreign minister also warned Skopje that Serbia might scrap its recognition of the country as the “Republic of Macedonia” and instead adopt the cumbersome name used officially by the EU and Nato - “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, or “Fyrom”.

This is used to assuage Greek anger over Macedonia’s use of the same name as a province in northern Greece - a dispute that still presents a major obstacle to the country’s efforts to join the EU and Nato.