Serbia and Macedonia cool their row over Kosovo and spying claims

The EU had urged calm after Belgrade recalled all of its diplomats from Skopje

The closed Serbian embassy in Skopje:  according to media reports, the Serbian government decided to withdraw all of its diplomats from Skopje back to Belgrade  on Monday. Photograph: Georgi Licovski/EPA

The closed Serbian embassy in Skopje: according to media reports, the Serbian government decided to withdraw all of its diplomats from Skopje back to Belgrade on Monday. Photograph: Georgi Licovski/EPA

 

The leaders of Serbia and Macedonia have agreed to repair their relations peacefully after Belgrade abruptly recalled all its diplomats from Skopje in a row over alleged eavesdropping and relations with Kosovo.

The sudden crisis, coming after months of sporadic tension between the Balkan neighbours, prompted the European Union to call for a calm and negotiated resolution to the row between states that hope eventually to join the bloc.

After a telephone conversation on Wednesday, Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev and Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said their countries would “resolve any possible disagreement in their mutual relations exclusively through dialogue”.

“Regardless of any political differences on certain important political and regional issues, Serbia and Macedonia will jointly fight not only to preserve, but also to promote friendly relations between the Macedonian and Serbian people,” they pledged in a joint statement.

The two ex-Yugoslav republics would also “intensify mutual communications at the highest level, support each other on the European path and strengthen good neighbourly relations to contribute to the stability of the region”, the leaders added.

Belgrade officials have cited two key allegations as the cause of their anger, neither of which were mentioned in the leaders’ statement: that Macedonia intends to back Kosovo’s bid to join the UN cultural agency Unesco, and that its security services have been spying on Serbian diplomats.

Denied

The Skopje government has not confirmed its position on Kosovo’s Unesco membership but has suggested that it will vote in line with most EU states; they recognise the independence of Kosovo, unlike Belgrade and its major ally Russia, which want to block the former Serbian province from international organisations.

Macedonia has vehemently denied what Mr Vucic on Monday called “highly offensive intelligence activities against certain bodies and institutions of Serbia”.

Nikola Dimitrov, Macedonia’s foreign minister, said his government “never had an intention, issued an order or instruction, nor has executed any counter-intelligence activities, against or at the expense of any of our neighbouring countries”, including Serbia.

Spat

He insisted that Macedonia’s new government – in power for less than three months – was focused on “solving the existing issues in the region instead of creating problems – it is a policy of open doors and solutions”.

The spat comes at a sensitive time for Macedonia, as it seeks to improve difficult relations with neighbours like Greece and Bulgaria and revive its bids for EU and Nato accession, after a long and sometimes violent political crisis that prompted claims of covert Russian and Serbian meddling in the country’s affairs.

Moscow and Belgrade deny those allegations but questions remain, including as to why a Serbian intelligence officer was in Macedonia’s parliament when a mob of protesters stormed in and attacked Mr Zaev and his allies in April.