Saturday, May 30, 2015

Serbia, Albania to Build EUR 1 B Nis-Durres Motorway

Bulgaria: Serbia, Albania to Build EUR 1 B Nis-Durres Motorway


Bulgaria: Serbia, Albania to Build EUR 1 B Nis-Durres Motorway Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic (L) and Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (R), during Tirana Talks at the Vienna Economic Forum held in Tirana, Albania, 28 May 2015. EPA/BGNES

Serbia and Albania will sign a protocol for the construction of a EUR 1 B motorway that will link Nis with the Adriatic port of Durres, Serbia’s Construction, Transport and Infrastructure Minister Zorana Mihajlovic said on Saturday.

The document will be signed within the next 15 days by Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and his Albanian counterpart Edi Rama who discussed the construction of the motorway during Vucic’s two-day visit to Albania earlier this week, Mihajlovic said on state-run Serbian TV channel RTS.

The motorway will stretch from Nis to Merdare in Serbia, through Pristina in Kosovo, before reaching Tirana and Durres in Albania.

The project is extremely important because it will enhance the entire region’s integrity and political stability which are prerequisites for economic stability, Mihajlovic said. For landlocked Serbia the motorway will also provide access to Albania’s Adriatic ports, she added.

A project for the construction of the motorway is currently being drafted. It will be unveiled in Vienna in August.

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Fugitive Georgian Ex-President Appointed Governor of Odessa Region

© AP Photo/ Virginia Mayo
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Former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, a fugitive from justice in his home country, has officially been appointed governor of the Odessa region by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, local media has confirmed.
The Ukrainian president arrived in Odessa on Saturday for a working visit along with the new governor. Speaking before reporters, Poroshenko characterized Saakashvili as the "independent, decisive person who changed Tblisi," adding that among the new governor's main tasks will be the 'deoligarchization' of Ukraine. He noted that Saakashvili was "a friend since my student years. I remember him as a strong-willed and determined person, and I have every reason to trust him." Saakashvili officially received his Ukrainian citizenship on Friday. His connection to Ukraine is not entirely tenuous; he had graduated from the Institute of International Relations of the National University of Kiev in 1992, and had briefly served with the Soviet Border Troops at Kiev's Boryspil Airport in 1989-1990. Earlier this year, Poroshenko had appointed him the chairman of Ukraine's International Council on Reforms, a group of foreign advisors ostensibly tasked with helping the country in carrying out its political and economic reforms.
Saakashvili, disgraced in his home country, was forced to flee Georgia in 2013, after the Georgian Prosecutor's Office launched a criminal case against him. The charges leveled against him include abuse of power, misappropriation of funds and over $5 million in embezzlement charges. Georgia has repeatedly asked Ukraine to extradite Saakashvili. The former president is also known for his failed invasion of the breakaway region of South Ossetia in August, 2008, which coincided with the Beijing Summer Olympics and prompted a decisive military response from Russia. The disastrous conflict prompted Russia's official recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.
Saakashvili had vaguely hinted at his imminent appointment on Friday night:

Friday, May 29, 2015

Wilhelm: Kosovo issue needs to be resolved

German Ambassador in Belgrade Heinz Wilhelm stated on Friday that Germany wishes Serbia's negotiating chapters to open as soon as possible.
Source: Tanjug, TV Pink
(Tanjug, file)
(Tanjug, file)
He added that the Kosovo issue needs to be resolved.
From the German perspective, the prerequisite for opening the chapters is embodied in the opening of Chapter 35 on the Kosovo issue as the first step, and the condition for opening this chapter is full implementation of the Brussels agreement, Wilhelm told the Belgrade-based Television Pink.

The German ambassador noted that the constitution of the community of Serb municipalities is another matter that has not been completed yet, and added that the talks on the matter are being conducted with difficulties. He noted that after the opening of Chapter 35, Chapters 23 and 24 could open as well.

Asked to explain the exact meaning of the phrase "normalization of relations with Kosovo," Wilhelm said that the normalization "does not mean recognition, but establishment of good neighborly relations."

Asked about the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Serbia, Wilhelm confirmed that the preparations for the visit are underway although the date has not been specified yet, adding that he believes Merkel will meet with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

He also assessed that the visit of Germany's minster for economic cooperation and development, Gerhard Miller, went well and was important, adding that Germany was the biggest bilateral donor to help Serbia reach the EU as soon as possible.

The diplomat reminded that 370 companies with German capital are active in Serbia and more big companies are ready to invest, while trade between the two countries reached EUR 3.2 billion last year, "with room to further increase the cooperation."

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Region "needs money, not seminars" from EU - PM

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said in Albania on Thursday that "regional countries must work on joint infrastructure projects and seek support from the EU."
Source: Tanjug
He was addressing "Tirana Talks" of the Vienna Economic Forum, where prime ministers of Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and also Kosovo are taking part.
Vucic spoke after Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama to say that "the request for help and support from the European Union must be made together."

"If we can't get EU's help and support, we must try and do as much as we can alone together," he said.

"Finally we agreed on two important issues - a common goal for all of us, and that is the European path, and about the full membership in the EU. It cannot be expected ​​tomorrow, there are plenty of things to do before it happens,"said Vucic.

"I suggested to Edi (Rama) and Milo (Djukanovic) to sign joint projects, to go to Brussels and ask for support for these projects, and if we don't get it we on the Serbian side will be ready to start financing them from our funds," he said.

Vucic added that "the state of the Serbian budget is better than before," and that Serbia is "ready for the integration processes in the Balkans."

Serbia, as he said, is also "ready to deal with concrete questions and have a joint presentation before the institutions in Brussels, but also to take steps alone to improve the lives of citizens and the connectedness of the region."

"Peoples will appreciate that extremely," said Vucic, adding that "the popularity of the European Union in Serbia is growing."

Enlargement fatigue is being mentioned, he remarked - but added that he "could not comment on that" because he is "no expert."

Taking part in a discussion during the same event on Thursday, Vucic said that "we need money from European funds," and added:

"We have had enough of seminars, we need money to build roads and railways. If you can't set aside funds then say so, we will find the means."

He added that "our people should not be underestimated because they expect concrete results."

The meeting in Tirana, the prime minister continued, represented "a cry of all its participants," and a call to the EU and the European Commission "to analyze the situation, consider it well, and properly evaluate - to help us better and more."

One of the forum's moderators, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, asked "what premieres of the region expect from the upcoming Summit on the Western Balkans," to be held in late August in Vienna, and Vucic replied that "citizens need something tangible, some concrete results."

He added that the most important projects in the region have been defined and agreed on during a meeting with EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn in Brussels.

According to Vucic, the acceleration of European integration for all in the region is something that is very important for this part of Europe, because the Balkan region is still "vulnerable and faces many political and economic problems."

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama also stressed that expected he expected the Vienna gathering to provide "more attention and assistance from the EU."

What's Eating Pentagon: China May Seriously Boost Its Naval Power by 2030

China Navy

© AP Photo/ Guang Niu, Pool
Military & Intelligence
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China may reportedly build some 415 warships by 2030, according to former top intelligence officer James Fanell as cited by US journalist Zachary Keck; Keck underscored that this would be a significant increase over China's current naval power.

American journalist Zachary Keck, who has interned at the Center for a New American Security and in the US Congress, where he worked on defense issues, pointed out that China is steadily increasing its military potential, and particularly, its naval forces. Citing former senior intelligence officer James Fanell, the journalist stressed that the PLAN (People's Liberation Army Navy) "will continue to expand for the next 15 years." Furthermore, China is expected to build some 415 navy ships by 2030.
"China will have an incredible 99 submarines, 4 aircraft carriers, 102 destroyers and frigates, 26 corvettes, 73 amphibious ships and 111 missile craft. That will give Beijing a total of 415 warships," the journalist highlighted.

At the same time, the Pentagon has recently admitted in its 2015 "Annual Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China," that over the past 15 years, China's naval modernization program has resulted in a more technologically advanced and flexible force. "The PLA Navy now possesses the largest number of vessels in Asia, with more than 300 surface ships, submarines, amphibious ships, and patrol craft. China is rapidly retiring legacy combatants in favor of larger, multi-mission ships, equipped with advanced anti-ship, anti-air, and anti-submarine weapons and sensors," the report stated.

According to the journalist, at last week's the annual conference of the US Naval War College's China Maritime Institute James Fanell stressed that Beijing's new Luyang III Type 052D class destroyers could be considered a "game changer," allowing China's Navy to expand its operational area and project its power far beyond "first island chain." Zachary Keck noted, however, that Fanell has long been known for his alarmist stance and "blunt assessments" regarding Beijing's naval force. In 2013 James Fanell noted, for instance, that China was "bullying its adversaries" and labeled it as "hegemonic." In 2014 Fanell insisted that Beijing was preparing for a "short, sharp war" with Japan over disputed islands, while in February 2015, during his retirement ceremony the former senior US Navy officer warned about an upcoming war with China.

Meanwhile, according to Keck, many of Fanell's also had taken note of China's improved nuclear-powered the Type 094 Jin class ballistic missile submarine. They also pointed out that Beijing is seemingly seeking to boost its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities. Keck quoted former US Navy officer Christopher Carlson, who said with a touch of anxiety: "We're going to see some very impressive ASW changes…. We have a problem when they become proficient."

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Gruevski to visit Tirana on Thursday

Gruevski to visit Tirana on Thursday GazetaExpress Tuesdat, 26 May 2015 22:55

Macedonian Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, has confirmed his attendance at the Prime Ministers' Summit, to be held in Tirana on Thursday.

The Summit will also be attended by the Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic.
However, the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tspiras has refused the invitation from Edi Rama and will be not make an appearance at the Summit.


foto e U.S. Embassy-Tirana

On May 27, Ambassador Lu together with Minister of Interior Tahiri spoke at the annual security conference “Religious Radicalism and Extremism as a Security Threat: The Case of Albania and the Western Balkans” organized by the Albanian Institute for International Studies with the support of the NATO Public Diplomacy Division. In his remarks Ambassador Lu noted that “…I share Albania’s dream of a Europe whole, free and at peace. ISIS and other extremist groups threaten that dream. We must not delay in rising to meet this challenge. And we cannot leave this work to our children’s generation.”

Tirana rocked by three killed, in the eve of the Summit of the Regional Security

Three people were killed by armed clash in Tirana

The first track of the investigation is that of revenge, but by the collision are also seriously wounded four other people.

It reported that the conflict occurred between two criminal groups who were in two separate cars /

The killings occurred just when Tirana, is strengthened by about 1600 police officers, who are providing continually few days, a series of international conferences for regional security.

Today The Serbian Prime Minister Alexander Vucic, is holding a historically visit in Tirana, called from Albanian counter part to take part with some other leaders of Balkan, for Security Cooperation in Region.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s response to journalists’ questions regarding today’s statements from the Prime Minister of Albania

Hellenic Republic - Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Wednesday, 27 May 2015
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Konstantinos Koutras made the following statement in response to journalists’ questions regarding statements made today by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama:

“The political leadership of our friendly neighbouring country is lapsing, in word and deed, every day. A return to the logic of, and to respect for, legality and international law is the surest path for Albania’s European perspective. No further comment.”

Serbian Premier Vucic in landmark visit to Albania

Associated PressMay 27, 2015 
Aleksandar Vucic's visit was held under tight security, with some 1,300 policemen deployed in the capital Tirana, police and army helicopters overhead and streets in the city center blocked to traffic.
"Relations between Serbia and Albania will be the backbone of relations in this part of Europe," Vucic said after talks with his Albanian counterpart Edi Rama. "If we are smart and responsible enough, and we understand that wars and bloodshed will not solve our problems, but with talks, with dialogue, with honest relations, then I can say that both Serbia and Albania have a much better future compared to the past we had together."
Relations between the two Balkan states have been strained, mainly over the former Serbian province of Kosovo where majority ethnic Albanians declared independence in 2008. Serbia, which considers Kosovo the cradle of their statehood and Christian Orthodox religion, refuses to recognize its independence.
"The courage that Germany and France had to overcome rivers of blood after World War II should inspire us to turn this peaceful time into a history of building up the foundations of a sustainable coexistence," Rama said.
The two premiers discussed increasing bilateral trade and investment, cooperation in energy and tourism and recognizing their countries' university diplomas.
Both countries have applied for European Union membership. Albania is a NATO member while Serbia is still on the waiting list.
Vucic said the two would jointly ask the EU for funding support for a highway linking Nish in Serbia with Durres in Albania and passing through Kosovo.
Vucic's visit follows Rama's visit to Belgrade in November, the first by an Albanian head of government to Serbia in 68 years.
Rama's trip to Serbia had originally been scheduled to be held in October, but was postponed over tension arising from a European Championship soccer qualifying match between the two national teams. The game in Belgrade was suspended after a drone carrying an Albanian nationalist flag ignited clashes between players and fans.
His appearance in Belgrade was marred by an open clash at a press conference between the two prime ministers over Kosovo's statehood. Vucic reacted angrily to Rama's remarks that Serbia should view Kosovo's independence with "realism."
During Wednesday's visit, both Vucic and Rama stuck to their respective positions regarding Kosovo, but without placing particular emphasis on the issue during their joint appearance after their meeting.
Serbia has been accusing Tirana of wanting to create a Greater Albania encompassing Kosovo, large chunks of Macedonia and other territories where ethnic Albanians live in the Balkans. Albania has repeatedly denied such ambitions, saying borders in the Balkans would not matter once all its states become EU members.

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Bulgaria’s Chief of Defence Staff to Attend Annual Balkan Countries CHODs Conference

Bulgaria: Bulgaria’s Chief of Defence Staff to Attend Annual Balkan Countries CHODs Conference

Politics » DEFENSE | May 27, 2015


Bulgaria: Bulgaria’s Chief of Defence Staff to Attend Annual Balkan Countries CHODs Conference Vice Admiral Rumen Nikolov, Chief of Defence Staff of Bulgaria, photo by BGNES

Vice Admiral Rumen Nikolov, Chief of Defence Staff of Bulgaria, will participate in the Annual Meeting of the Chiefs of Defence/General Staffs of the Balkan Countries on May 27-28 in Budva, Montenegro.

Apart from the Chiefs of Defence of the nine founders of the initiative for enhancing military cooperation on the Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, and Montenegro), the conference will also be attended by the Deputy Chairman of NATO's Military Committee, Mark Schissler, Allied Joint Force Command Naples commander, U.S. Navy Adm. Mark Ferguson III, and the Chiefs of Defence of Croatia and Slovenia.

The topics on the agenda of the two-day conference revolve around the importance of regional military cooperation and good neighborly relations for maintaining and improving regional and European security, according to reports of the BGNES news agency.

The Coordination Group and the two sub-working groups is to create an appropriate framework for a fruitful discussion on today’s challenges and security threats that need to be solved through the joint efforts of the Balkan military leaders.

Russian UN envoy: KLA planned more attacks

Russia's ambassador to the UN has told a Security Council session on to Kosovo that statements about the creation of a Greater Albania are a cause for concern.
Source: RTS, Tanjug
Vitaly Churkin also communicated his country's concern "over the manner in which the West is talking Pristina into forming a court for the crimes committed by the KLA," RTS has quoted him as saying.
Tanjug reported that Churkin said it was "wrong to be encouraging Pristina to set up the court as soon as they could to avoid the job being done by the UNSC, and letting the Russian influence grow that way."

"I don't see in what way this approach by the West helps the rule of law, while Macedonian police officers in Kumanovo were attacked by bandits in KLA uniforms, who planned more attacks," noted the Russian diplomat.

Suspected war criminals must be brought to justice regardless of the status of Kosovo, said Churkin.

Special court

Ambassadors of UN Security Council (UNSC) member states urged the government in Pristina to set up a special court for crimes committed by the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the debate on Tuesday.

They also "welcomed the continuation of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, and condemned the recent attacks in Macedonia," Tanjug said.

David Pressman, Alternate Representative of the United States to the UN, welcomed the continued progress on the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and urged both sides to continue their efforts to resolve the telecommunications and energy issues.

“Kosovo must respond appropriately to allegations of serious crimes committed between 1998 and 2000” and promptly adopt the necessary legal measures to set up the Special Court, added Pressman.

He also "commended Belgrade and Pristina for their continued commitment to fighting terrorism, and, in that context, congratulated Serbia on hosting a successful counter-terrorism conference in April, particularly commending the country's inclusive approach with regard to Kosovo's participation."

Pressman also proposed that the UNSC extend the reporting period for the Secretary-General to every six months, instead of the three months as is the case now.

"Strong leadership"

Head of the UN mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, Farid Zarif expressed his regret on Tuesday that there are still no results concerning the formation of a community of Serb municipalities in Kosovo and Metohija and stressed that a strong leadership by both Belgrade and Pristina is necessary in order to make progress in the technical dialogue and deliver results.

Speaking about the establishment of a specialist court for the crimes committed by KLA, Zarif "stressed that in his meetings with the political leaders of Kosovo he underlined that the international community and relatives of the victims expect Pristina authorities not to delay the formation of the court."

He also noted that fast progress in solving the cases of missing persons is necessary to continue the reconciliation process.

Incidents affecting the returnees are particularly alarming, said Zarif, adding that an agreement was reached with the Kosovo government to deploy additional police forces to Klina, where a number of attacks on Serb returnees has been reported.

EU asks member states to admit 40,000 asylum seekers

First entry: 27 May 2015
EU asks member states to admit 40,000 asylum seekers
The EU on May 27 asked its member states to admit over the next two years 40,000 asylum seekers from Syria and Eritrea who have already landed in Italy and Greece.
"We... have a proposal for an emergency mechanism to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers to other European (member) states," home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a press conference.
"Syrians and Eritreans will be relocated from Italy and Greece to other European Union member states over a period of two years," he said.
Repeating an earlier proposal, Avramopolous said the European Union is also asking member states to admit 20,000 people from third countries who have "a clear need for international protection".
"They will be resettled from countries outside Europe to European Union member states."  
He insisted that the European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation EU, was not proposing a quota system for distributing people.
Many member states, who are under pressure from anti-immigrant parties during tough economic times, have strongly objected to quotas.
"It's up to each member to decide how many refugees they will grant refugee status," he added.
"If countries want to relocate or settle more, they can, but we want to insure minimum solidarity," Avramopoulos said.
The EU was prodded into action after nearly 800 migrants died in April in the deadliest such shipwreck in the Mediterranean.
More than 5,000 migrants, many escaping civil war in Syria, have died over the past 18 months while trying to cross the Mediterranean, often on flimsy rubber dinghies or fishing boats.

Romania "could recognize Kosovo" - PM

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta has told the Pristina-based Klan Kosova television outlet that his country "could recognize Kosovo."
Source: Tanjug
(Beta/AP, file)
(Beta/AP, file)
Ethnic Albanians in Serbia's southern province in early 2008 unilaterally declared independence, but Serbia rejected the proclamation as a violation of its territorial integrity and Constitution.
Romania is one of five EU member-states that have not recognized Kosovo.

"In 2008 Romania decided not to recognize Kosovo. However, things have changed since then. Governments have changed and some new decision on the recognition of Kosovo could be made," Ponta said after a summit of heads of state of Southeastern Europe - according to Albanian language Pristina-based daily Epoka E Re.

The media in Kosovo are reporting that Ponta said his country would consider recognizing Kosovo "because many things have changed in Kosovo since 2008."

According to the paper, he "stressed that one of the main reasons is that Kosovo and Serbia are successfully conducting their dialogue."

Rama: "We intend self-determination in the territory of our nation between Albanians in the European Union, but not The Greater Albania"




Rama: Tirana wants the same rights for Albanians in Preshevo, as have Serbs living in Mitrovitsa"

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic comes in Tirana with high security measures

Rama for Greece: "We do not negotiate the national interest for the sea with Greece ,,, but do not want to close our eyes to such problems that affect our national security."

Vucic: We have different opinions, Serbia considered Kosovo and Metohija as part of Serbia, while Albania considers as an independent country"


Edi Rama, Parallels Autonomy of Srpska Mitrovista the Albanians of Preshevo

During the press conferece Rama - Vucic, Prime Minister's Albanians Rama, made it clear that: "Tirana wants the same rights for Albanians in Preshevo, have today Serbs living in Mitrovitsa"

Vucic: We have different opinions, Serbia considered Kosovo and Metohija as part of Serbia, while Albania considers as an independent "

Rama asked from journalist of Top Channel TV, for worsening relationship with Greece and Turkey, while regulating the relationship with Serbia was, he replied: 

Rama asked for worsening relationship with Greece and Turkey, while regulating the relationship with Serbia was, he replied:

Rama: "To share the attitudes Kosovo absolutely unacceptable .."

Rama: The position of Serbs in Albania is an example and have the same rights that have minorities in Albania, almost spectacular best .. "

Rama 'For Greece have underscored bilateral interactions strategic and have no kind of problem with Athens, I invited Alexis Tsipras in Tirana, and I do not see any extraneous reasons neither Athens nor other circles wonder why the Albanian state, asks the Greek authorities, international law for research information in the sea, and that is not our secret attempt to find common ground to solve an issue of interest of tow countryes.

Rama: "We do not negotiate the national interest for the sea with Greece ,,, but do not want to close our eyes to such problems that affect our national security."

For the selection of Shpetim Idrizi (Cham community) as deputy of Parlamenit Albania, ... is our interior problem not for others, .  

Journalist: do you accept the idea of Greater Albania?

Rama,,, we have made strong dialogue for the region. Great Albania is not a project, but peace in the Balkans, could be put in danger by a football match.

Greater Albania, I said, Great Albania is an idea, which they promoted and feed those who do not want the Albanians Irene.

"We intend self-determination of our nation surfaces between Albanians in the European Union, but not Greater Albania " 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Metropolitan Andreas of Konitsas : "Wake up! I`ts the times that the Northern Epirus and our country, is in great alert.! "

The Metropolitan Dryinoupolis, Pogoniani and Konitsa, Andreas once again expresses its deep concern over what is happening with regard to Albania and the new open longer anti-Greek stance towards Greece, with the creation of new issues that did not exist anymore as that of land borders.

Bishop Andreas in his open letter to the Greek state, calls for regarding all the latest developments in Greek-Albanian relations, developments that inevitably affect the Ethnic Minority in Northern Epirus.

The Bishop also mentioned the claims of Chams while sounding the alarm to Athens for the 'black clouds' coming regarding Northern Epirus calling controllers and "responsible" to awaken finally.

Read the open letter of the Bishop:

His Eminence Metropolitan Dryinoupolis, Pogoniani and Konitsa Mr. ANDREAS,

made the following statements:

            "I have often pointed out, that Albanians worn with impudence and insolence towards to Greece. And this proves successive events involving the Greek national community of Northern Epirus.

Albania raises border issue with Greece and plans to create ...the  "Greater Albania".

 And forgets that the current borders in the south at least, comes from the theft of Greek territory of Northern Epirus with the help mainly of Italy in 1914.

            One more recent samples of the Albanian ingratitude, but also anti-Greek policy is that the Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama put in place third vice Albanian Parliament in Spetim Idriz, who is Chairman of the Nationalist Party of Chams.

       However, developments in the neighbor are rapid, the Greek Government monitors awkward movements of Albanians, and risks of Northern Community in particular, by criminals 'Chams', which the Albanians obvious now incite anti-Greek sentiments.

            Expressing once again our concerns, we pray and while crying to the government and citizens around the world: Gentlemen, wake up! The country and the Northern Epirus risk the End Times. Why, if we continue to indifferent, we will pay dearly one - God forbid - a national humiliation and destruction. " news section

US Naval Forces to Acquire Over 300 Ships in Five Years – Navy Secretary

US Navy Ships in Indian Ocean

© Flickr/ Official US Navy Page/SPC Mark Alvarez
The United States will build a fleet of more than 300 vessels by the end of the decade, US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said. He pointed out that in 2001 the US Navy comprised 316 vessels, but by 2008 the number had dropped to 278.
The US Navy will number more than 300 ships by 2020 with 60 percent of them in the Pacific Ocean, US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said.

"We are building the fleet above 300 ships. We’ll get there by the end of the decade. We’re shifting at least 60 percent to the Pacific," he said during a MSNBC show answering the question on how the US will keep competitive with the Chinese Navy.

Mabus pointed out that in 2001 the US Navy comprised 316 vessels, but by 2008 the number had dropped to 278.

According to the secretary, from 2005 to 2009 the US put under contract 27 ships, and in the following five years – over 70 ships.

Vajgl: Jihad and Greater Albania behind the conflict in Kumanovo

SOURCE Tanjug, Vecernje Novosti, Vecernji List

ZAGREB/SKOPJE – Situation in Macedonia is very serious and, after armed conflict in Kumanovo, European institutions have realized it, said an envoy of European Parliament Ivo Vajgl, not excluding the possibility that it was a clash of radical Islamists, but also fighters for a “Greater Albania”, reported “Vecernje Novosti”.
Photo from:
Photo from:
Vajgl, who is one of three mediators in negotiations with Macedonian leaders VMRO-DPMNE Nikola Gruevski and opposition leader Zoran Zaev on overcoming the months-long political crisis, says that problems in Macedonia are multilayer.
“We have a post-transition situation in which the main principal is how to grab as much of the state property of the former Yugoslavia as possible, and the level of corruption is high. Inside the ethnic groups there are interests that are largely influenced from outside,” said Vajgl in an interview with Zagreb’s “Vecernji List”.
Asked whether he speaks about Albania, Vajgl said:”I think of the Albanians in whom it is difficult to determine who represents authentic Albanian political and social structure, and who can be directed into the framework of the idea of which no one wants to speak about, but it is there. The idea of a ‘Greater Albania'”.
He recalled that the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama threatens Macedonia with veto on NATO membership.
The situation, says Vajgl, is complicated and that is why the incident in Kumanovo can be explained only by an independent investigation.
He noted, however, that there are a lot of indications for an assumption that clashes in Kumanovo have links to radical Islamism.
“Some of those people who participated in clashes in Kumanovo in – obviously – very professional terrorist action, fought in Syria and Iraq. They know with what idea they came to Kumanovo. And it is jihad and spreading radical Islam to the European continent. There may be other motives – a Greater Albania or connection to domestic political scene, although it is difficult to believe that anyone is willing to take responsibility for the deaths of eight police officers,” he said.
It seems, he says, that because of Kumanovo European institutions realized that the situation is extremely dangerous, that it can be manipulated from outside and that it can turn into a regional conflict.
“I have never excluded it and I believe that the guarantee for the stability of the region is only a membership in the EU and probably NATO although I have reservations about NATO as a global policeman,” he said.
To the remark that he is not referring to Macedonia as a former Yugoslav Republic, Vajgl says that it is “absurd denomination”.
“By that logic I could say that I come from former Yugoslav republic Slovenia or the former Austro-Hungarian province of Kranjska. It is completely absurd and irrational that Greece, who is asking us for support and understanding, shows so little solidarity for neighbors and lack of understanding for the fact that non-recognition of Macedonia creates a focal point of the crisis on their borders,” said Vajgl.
According to him, the name dispute is a bilateral dispute, as well as the demarcation of Croatia and Slovenia, which Slovenia used to block Croatia.
“I’ve never been in favor of having former Yugoslav republic blackamiling each other. My attitude was, both as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and President of the Board for Foreign Affairs, to have states resolve their conflicts before entering the EU, because these issues in some cases become weapons of nationalists. I already see on the horizon the following disputes: Croatia and Serbia, Croatia and BiH, BiH and Montenegro,” said Vajgl.

Albania's president warns that Macedonia crisis could be a setback for region's EU ambitions

  • Albania Balkan Cooperation-1.jpg
    Albanian President Bujar Nishani, left, meets with visiting Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta in Tirana, Tuesday May 26, 2015, during the South East European Cooperation Process summit, a regional grouping of 13 Balkan and eastern European countries. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina) (The Associated Press)
Albania's president says the crisis in Macedonia could be a setback for the Balkan region's efforts to add new members to the European Union.
President Bujar Nishani told regional leaders meeting in Tirana that the Macedonia crisis showed the "fragility of stability in the region."
Macedonia is grappling with a political crisis triggered by wiretapping allegations against the government, while tension has been stoked by a shootout this month between police and suspected ethnic Albanian militants that left 18 dead.
The leaders were meeting as part of the 13-nation South-East European Cooperation Process. Five of its members are in the EU, while five others are candidates.

Albania hosts regional European summit

Albania hosts regional European summit

Albania hands over South-East European Cooperation Process presidency to Bulgaria

World Bulletin / News Desk

EU memberships for Balkan countries can play a role in uniting them around common goals despite their historical and cultural differences, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said Tuesday.
Babacan made the remarks in the Albanian capital Tirana where Albania handed over its presidency of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) to Bulgaria.
"The EU membership process of Balkan countries is very important for Turkey. We believe that the EU (memberships) could play a role in bringing these countries together around common goals and ideals despite any historical issues or cultural differences they may have," he told reporters.
About the South-East European Cooperation Process, he said that it served a significant role in developing cooperation and dialogue between Balkan countries, adding that it "creates an opportunity to further improve political relations in particular, and unite countries around common areas of interest, values and ideals despite differences."
The Turkish deputy premier also highlighted the importance of facilitating trade among Balkan countries as increased free circulation of goods, people and capital would have positive consequences.
"If we can establish a common ground and a strong economic cooperation, and countries become more dependent on each other economically, this would be very helpful both for security and stability," he added.
Babacan was joined by Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti and Romanian Prime Minister Victor-Viorel Ponta at the SEECP event.
Albanian President Bujar Nishani said that the country during its SEECP presidency fought organized crime, championed regional peace and made efforts for EU membership for non-EU countries.
The SEECP was established in 1996 in Bulgaria to establish peace and stability in the Balkans.
Turkey has been a SEECP member since its founding and held the presidency in 1998-1999 and 2009-2010.

Russia Gives Up on Mistral Deal

KAZAN – Following the failed deal on the supplies to Russia of French Mistral-class helicopter carries, Russia plans building its own carriers, but of a different class and there is no aim of copying the French analogues, a senior military industrial official said on Tuesday.
Photo: Reuters/Stephane Mahe
Photo: Reuters/Stephane Mahe
“We have such vessels in our plans, but they will be built in line with a different class as we have a different ideology of paratroopers landing. There is no set task of copying Mistrals,” Russian Government’s Military Industrial Commission Deputy Chairman Oleg Bochkaryov told journalists, TASS reports.
Bochkaryov added that Russia was not discussing with France the supplies of the promised vessels and the only issue currently at talks with French partners was the compensation for the severed contract.
“Russia will not take them, it is a matter of fact, and there is only one discussion currently underway and it concerns the sum of the compensation, which Russia should be reimbursed with,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Russian Security Council’s Deputy Secretary Yevgeny Lukyanov said that the country’s defense capabilities would be no way affected by France’s failure to supply Mistral helicopter carriers under a bilateral deal.
According to assessments of the French weekly Le Point, annulment of the deal to supply Mistrals to Russia may cost France from €2 billion to €5 billion.

Vucic and Rama expected to discuss relations, infrastructure

Aleksandar Vucic will be visiting Tirana on Wednesday and Thursday while his talks with Albanian PM Edi Rama will be under special scrutiny of the world public.
Source: B92
The press conference in Belgrade during Rama's visit (Tanjug, file)
The press conference in Belgrade during Rama's visit (Tanjug, file)
The first visit of a Serbian prime minister to Albania comes amid "a new crisis in the Balkans," but also six months after the exchange of strong words between Vucic and Rama during the latter's visit to Belgrade.
The global media at the time reported about "the fragile relations between the two countries and the tense atmosphere at the prime ministers' press conference," describing the visit as "a missed opportunity." However, both sides are now coming out with much softer tones.

Speaking for TV B92 Vucic said that there "there are no heavy messages from Belgrade," while Rama said that Serbia and Albania "should be in the Balkans what France and Germany were in Europe."

Serbian, Albanian and foreign analysts think the visit is very important for the region, while Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council Goran Svilanovic said that in addition to establishing better relations, Vucic wants to talk about "everything that divides us currently."

"There are topics that simply must be talked about and on which they will not agree even after they have talked once, and two times, and three times. But as long as they talk, it is important to understand that this is a good thing," said Svilanovic, to Deutsche Welle.

AFP in the past days pointed out that the aim of the visit is to "repair the fragile relations between the two Balkan countries," mentioning also economic topics.

These could be the key topics on the table when Vucic and Rama meet.

Belgrade-based daily Danas states that the talks will be above all about the building of "the Nis-Pristina highway to a port in Albania," as well as "the reconstruction of the railroad through Kosovo to Albania."

According to the findings of this paper, infrastructure projects will be among the most important topics, while Traffic, Construction and Infrastructure Minister and Deputy PM Zoran Mihajlovic confirmed she would be in Vucic's delegation.

Mihajlovic in February announced the launch of the railroad projects and the highway, while a map of reconstruction of the road and rail corridors Serbia-Montenegro-Albania Vucic was presented by Vucic in August 2014 to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"When one road should start from Albania to Europe, it passes through Serbia, and when Serbia wants to demonstrate that it is a factor of stability, then it certainly develops infrastructure projects throughout the region," the minister said and reminded that there is already a joint working group on infrastructure projects.

The media in Tirana have similar findings, and the 24 Ore website states that Albania and Serbia have a key role in maintaining peace and stability in the Balkans and that they are "geo-strategically very important countries."

"In light of such a geopolitical situation indicative for the trend of relations between the two countries will be whether or not the joint projects that were talked about in August in Berlin will soon be presented," writes this website.

Albanian Ambassador to Belgrade Ilir Boca said he believed that "the main topics will be common strategic projects in the areas of infrastructure and energy, which would be partly funded from the EU."

"Strategic investments might lead us further on the path to stability and security and draw closer to Europe. That's what Vucic and Rama spoke about also in Brussels," he said.

Albanian media point out that Kosovo is not "the only bone of contention" between the two countries, but also "the controversial position of Serbia toward NATO and European politics and sanctions against Russia."

"We hope that we will have fewer of those topics and that we will pay more attention to the common interest of developing of our countries and the entire region," said Bocka.

Greece Optimistic About Deal, U.S. Intervene in Negotiations with IMF


by Philip Chrysopoulos - May 26, 2015

tsipras-2Greek government officials appeared optimistic on Monday night that an agreement with creditors is possible within the next ten days, while the U.S. allegedly intervene in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Greek government spokesperson Gavriil Sakellaridis said he believes a deal could be reached “soon.” The deal would have to be secured in the coming days so it can go through Parliament and gain approval for the release of further financial aid.

However, international creditors insist that a deal is not as close as Athens believes. Deliberations between the Brussels Group and the Greek team resumed on Tuesday, May 26, with IMF’s Olivier Blanchard saying on Monday that Greece’s budget proposals are not “credible” and very far from achieving the targeted primary surplus.

There are still four points in which both sides do not appear to agree, namely budgetary issues, pension and labor law reforms, and value added tax rates, with labor and pension reforms being the so-called “red lines” the Greek government has pledged not to cross.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met on Monday with government Vice President Yiannis Dragasakis, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, Economy, Infrastructure, Shipping and Tourism Minister George Stathakis and Alternate Minister for International Economic Relations Euclid Tsakalotos. The Greek PM stressed the need to expedite negotiations on a technical level so that Athens secures an emergency Eurogroup on June 2.

U.S. intervene to influence IMF to expedite an agreement with Greece

According to Greek newspaper “Ta Nea,” Tsipras has spoken to U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew about convincing the IMF to be more lenient in negotiations over the Greek debt.

The U.S. official assured the Greek PM that the U.S. would make the necessary moves to unlock the impasse in negotiations, according to the report.

It is reported that the U.S. Secretary will bring up the Greek issue during the upcoming G7 meeting that is scheduled to begin on Wednesday in Germany. The telephone contact between Tsipras and Lew was publicized by the U.S. Treasury and later confirmed by the Greek government.

According to the report, Lew appears to have been convinced of the need to push forward for an agreement. It is further reported that U.S. Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasia Daleep Singh said  Washington will do what it can so that the IMF does not block an agreement.
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'Something Needs to Give': Macedonian Leaders Meet Over Political Crisis

Macedonia protest

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Anti-Government Protests in Macedonia (30)
There is increasing speculation over the political future of Macedonia and its Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, as the country’s four main political party leaders meet for EU-US brokered talks in Skopje to try and break the impasse that has resulted in calls for Gruevski to resign.
In the third round of talks between Macedonian leaders, Gruevski will join main opposition chief Zoran Zaev, head of the junior ruling coalition party, Ali Ahmeti and Menduh Thaci, leader of the country’s ethnic Albanian party, to discuss what actions to take over the country’s volatile political situation.
There have been calls for Gruevski to resign from his position following ongoing criticism from political opponents.
These protests culminated in tens of thousands of people taking to the streets of the country’s capital of Skopje earlier this month to protest against the prime minister, who is alleged to be involved in the widespread surveillance of over 20,000 people.
Based on recorded conversations, which were released by opposition leader Zoran Zaev, the Gruevski government has been accused of spying on large parts of the Macedonian population, instigating electoral fraud and even covering up the killing of a young man by a police officer.
However Gruevski has hit back at the claims, saying the recordings had been tampered with as part of an attempt by foreign intelligence agencies to undermine his government and destabilize the country.
'Don’t Hold Breath for Progress' — Analyst
However despite the recent pressure on the government and marathon talks between the PM and Zaev in Strasbourg last week, Gruevski has refused to step down.
Dr James Ker-Lindsay, researcher in Balkan studies at the London School of Economics (LSE) told Sputnik he doesn’t believe the talks will achieve anything significant, if anything at all.
"I don’t think anyone is holding their breath for any progress, which is a great shame. There’s no doubt that something needs to give in the country. This is not a healthy situation at the moment. It’s highly damaging on all sorts of levels."
Dr Ker-Lindsay said he didn’t believe Gruevski would stand down from his position, but was hopeful some progress on reforms to the country’s electoral voting system would be made and proposals for greater transparency for the media would be established.
Concern Over US-EU Influence
The talks are to be overseen by US ambassador Jess Baily and EU representative Aivo Orav, which has also sparked concern from some about the potential impact that outside influences may have had on the recent Macedonian protests.
Some, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have suggested the recent political discontent has been being stoked by Western actors as part of a wider geopolitical game, aimed at destabilizing the country, and subsequently scuppering any plans for Russia's Turkish stream gas line to pass through Macedonia.
"There are attempts to pressure Gruevski's government for refusing to join in on sanctions against Russia and for backing the Turkish Stream [gas] pipeline [construction]," he said.
"The Macedonian events are quite brutal and are being orchestrated from outside."
These concerns were heightened following reports that Western-backed activist groups were offering Macedonian students $1,500 come up with their best protest ideas against Gruevski’s government.
Despite these claims, James Ker-Lindsay disagrees the West is playing a destabilizing role in the country for geopolitical reasons.
"I certainly don’t see any reason for that [West stirring protests]. The fact of the matter is that the EU and NATO have invested a lot of time into trying to stabilize the Balkans and it just wouldn’t make sense to suppose that they’re going to act as some sort of destabilizing factor, partly because you just don’t know what the spin-off outcomes of that might be," he said.
"Political instability is not good, it raises the possibility – however small – of ethnic instability creeping in and nobody wants to see that happen."
West 'Arm-Twisting' Over Reforms
However, Dr Ker-Lindsay also told Sputnik that the West would certainly be acting to push the country further towards EU and NATO membership.
He pointed out that joining the groups was still part of official Macedonian government policy, but the recent Gruevski government — which has seen plans to join both the EU and NATO hindered by Greek a veto – has moved away from reforms required to by Brussels to join the bloc.
"I think what we’re seeing now is quite interesting, because we’ve got Gruevski, who came to power as a reformer and was very dynamic and very forward-thinking, but because Greece blocked EU accession talks and Greece has stood in the way of NATO accession, over the past few years, he has become more and more comfortable and he’s not had to make any of these reforms for the EU. So he’s been able to hide behind this Greece veto and strengthen his position," he said.
"So what we’ve seen sadly is Gruevski, who started off as a reformer, as a positive figure, is now turning against EU and NATO membership. However this does still remain official government policy. So any form of arm-twisting that is coming in from the West is urging Macedonia to keep making reforms. However, now I think we are facing up to the fact that there’s a discrepancy between official rhetoric and official action."

Monday, May 25, 2015

President warns of danger posed by "Greater Albania" plans

The latest terrorist attacks in the region "confirm fears that creators of the so-called Greater Albania are not resting," Tomislav Nikolic has said.
Source: Beta
(Tanjug, file)
(Tanjug, file)
"The terrorist attacks, as well as deliberate provocations during the visit of the Tirana delegation (to Serbia) are a signal that the entire region at risk," the Serbian president told Italy's Ansa news agency ahead of the visit of his Italian counterpart.
"I think this problem should be jointly opposed by all countries that have a significant Albanian population, which is a prerequisite for the planned territorial unification of Albanian territories," Nikolic stated.

According to him, the plan to create "a Greater Albania" dates back to 1878 and "the military-political association for the defense of the rights of the Albanian people," that sought to create "an integrated territory in the territories of Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Montenegro."

"The methods to achieve this idea have been thoroughly prepared and are being carried out through terrorist actions, and it is very important that the international community recognizes them as such," said the Serbian president.

Serbia has "a crystal clear foreign policy orientation," he also said - and that is the priority of joining the European Union, "as confirmed by our deeds."

"At the same time, Serbia is a sovereign country that does not forget its history and must not forget the current economic interests. Today we do not participate in the formulation of foreign policy positions of the European Union. I think that explains it all, so it is unnatural to expect that we will automatically and technically fall in line behind the decisions in the making of which we do not participate," " Nikolic said when asked about "relations with Russia, to which Belgrade did not impose sanctions when the EU did."

The president added that Serbia is fully committed to its European path and has done a lot to make sure the provisions of the Brussels agreement with Pristina are implemented on the ground.

"However, the (Kosovo) Albanian side for its part has not made the slightest sign of good will. We expect European officials to make additional efforts so that the Albanians fulfull what they have signed to normalize the lives of all citizens who live in the province, regardless of their nationality. The life of Serbs in the province is extremely difficult and complicated, equality and life in freedom are far from their reality," Nikolic said.

He added that Serbia "owes a debt of gratitude to the Italian KFOR troops" for their efforts to save the population and the Serb holy places from total destruction.

Nikolic added that relations between Serbia and Italy two are very good, "but there is always room to build new ones and improve the existing." The president stressed the importance of Italy's continuous political support when it comes to giving Serbia a date to open its accession negotiations with the European Union.

Albanian PM "wants to deepen collaboration" with Serbia

"We want to deepen collaboration with Serbia and advance together on the path of peace, cooperation and integration in the EU," says Albanian PM Edi Rama.
Source: B92, AFP, Tanjug
(Tanjug, file)
(Tanjug, file)
He spoke for AFP ahead of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic's visit to Tirana this week, the first ever of a Serbian prime minister.
Vucic will "have talks with his counterpart on Wednesday and will be speaking Thursday at an economic forum in which regional country leaders are participating," the French agency reported, noting that Rama six months ago visited Belgrade as the first Albanian prime minister in 68 years.

AFP said that "relations between Serbians and Albanians are strained over the question of Kosovo," describing it as "a territory with an ethnic Albanian majority that declared independence from Serbia in 2008, with the support of the United States, but remains unrecognized by Belgrade and its ally Russia, as well as others."

According to announcements, Vucic and Rama will have a meeting, followed by that of the two delegations, while the prime minister will later hold a press conference.

According to the Albanian ATA agency, the Vienna Economic Forum on Thursday will gather "prime minister from several Adriatic and Black Sea countries."

In an interview for B92 late on Sunday, Vucic said that Albania and Albanians are "in expansion, both economic and political," and that Serbia should maintain good relations and attempt to have as much investments as possible in that country, "and a trade surplus."

On May 21 Vucic said that he was optimistic ahead of his trip to Albania and that he would go there to build good relations and discuss "all the things that currently divide us that can be bridged so that the differences are not so great."

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The two Balkan nationalism
The Greek response to the Albanian nationalism will be the official claim of the autonomy of Northern Epirus in Albania, based on the Protocol of Corfu 1914.

The only proposal that arises from history and common sense is to support methodically the Greek national interests

The Balkan unrest should concern us alongside the critical negotiations with our lenders. Skopje convulsed by conflict Slavs police with armed Albanians and the revelation that the Gruevski government watched rival phones. In Albania the socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama made statements in favor of "Greater Albania", denies the Greek EEZ Ionian and supports Chams anti-Greeks in the upcoming municipal elections in his country.

Some of our compatriots tend to choose through the media of supposedly moderate politicians in neighboring countries. We heard festivals in the election of Rama arguing that supposedly is more European and more modest than the right rival Sali Berisha. Yet for premiership Rama became official doctrine the "Greater Albania". Moreover, he as leader of the opposition had appealed to the Constitutional Court -with Turkish parakinisi- against the agreement of Athens - Tirana for determining maritime zones.

Other voices propose to tolerate the Macedonian nationalism as a counterweight to the Albanian. The only proposal that arises from history and common sense is to support methodically the Greek national interests and against the two nationalisms, Albanian and pseudo "makedoniko" must to stop illusions that such and such politician is more cooperative. Albanians and Skopjans do their job and we should do ours.

On the issue of Skopje have to come back to our original position, not bestowing the name Macedonia or as complex or as derivative and therefore reject any geographical definition. To immediately terminate the Interim Accord of September 1995, which, having ripped from FYROM, it was used by the legal base to implicate us before the International Court of Law. Also we are concerned formally the fate of Greek minority living oppressed in that State.

If he wants the Albanian ethnic community in FYROM to continue the armed struggle against the Slavs and secede, let's let them do it. I repeat: The dismantling of Skopje will mean removing an anti-Greek nationalism in the Balkans. The argument that so encouraged Albanians will answer that Albanian nationalism reared the US decision and our European partners to spin off Kosovo from Serbia. Neither then nor now they asked us we can prevent -and we have no reason to make- dissolving Skopian arrangement.

The Greek response to the Albanian nationalism will be the official claim of the autonomy of Northern Epirus in Albania, based on the Protocol of Corfu 1914.

Constantine Cholevas
"Democratia" Newspaper

The Problems Foreign Powers Find in the Balkans

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Russia, Turkey and the West all share one rival in the Balkans: political instability. Located at the confluence of three historic empires, the strip of land between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea has long been the focus of competition among global powers. Now it is just one arena in the standoff between Russia and the West. Yet, with both sides attempting to buy influence with investments and energy projects, and with Turkey struggling to keep pace, internal political challenges threaten to undermine outside efforts to develop and shape the region. As major powers use their financial and political clout to gain influence in the Balkans, weak local governments will continue to balance among competing nations.


Regional and world powers have paid an inordinate amount of attention to Balkan countries lately. On May 15, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Serbia, just a few days after the Chair of the Russian Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko, met with Serbian leaders in Belgrade. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Bosnia-Herzegovina on May 20 — Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan have paid similar visits in the past month. Western leaders have also demonstrated an interest in the region, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond visiting Bulgaria in January, while high-ranking U.S. officials regularly visit Romania.

Strategic Investments From the West

Western governments have two major goals in the Balkans: to maintain stability in the western part of the region and to minimize Russian influence. To that end, the United States and the European Union have been involved in the internal politics of the Balkans since NATO committed troops in the aftermath of the Bosnian war and the conflict in Kosovo in the 1990s. Western troops continue to serve in Kosovo in a peacekeeping capacity. The European Union has used considerable amounts of resources and political capital to bring reform and economic development to the region, but with mixed results.
The West has the advantage of access to ample development and defense funds that can be divided out among countries hungry for economic growth. Countries such as Serbia and Macedonia are unlikely to join the European Union in the next decade; they are held back by internal divisions and face resistance from current EU members. Yet they still have access to the economic benefits that come from close ties with Europe. Between 2014 and 2020, the European Union plans to grant 1.5 billion euros (around $1.7 billion) to Serbia, a prospective EU member, and 11.4 billion euros to Bulgaria, a current EU member. (Bulgarian citizens benefit from the ability to travel freely and work in the European Union.) In addition, there is significant defense assistance coming into Bulgaria as part of an effort to strengthen NATO members along the Russian borderlands.
The Ukraine crisis galvanized the United States into boosting defenses along NATO's eastern edge. NATO has enlarged its multinational response force, created a new spearhead force that can mobilize quickly and established a chain of outposts in the eastern Balkans called force integration units, which could serve as command centers during a conflict.
At the same time, fighting in Ukraine prompted the European Union to prioritize its Southern Corridor natural gas project, which would bypass Russian energy giant Gazprom in the European energy market and reduce Europe's reliance on Russia. In addition, the West strongly discouraged Bulgaria from participating in Russia's South Stream project. When Bulgaria opted out, Russia canceled the project in December.

Russia Counters the West

For its part, Russia has used its influence in the Balkans, where it has close historical and cultural ties with countries such as Serbia and Greece, to threaten Western interests. However, the Kremlin's interest in the region in the past year stems in large part from its deteriorating relationship with the West. Russia's goal in the Balkans is to prevent the expansion of Western troops and military infrastructure in the region while maintaining sufficient strength to implement strategic energy infrastructure projects.
Although the West has greater resources to invest in the Balkans, Russia owns several regional energy assets and holds a number of outstanding loans to Balkan governments. Moscow has managed to retain good diplomatic relationships with some local oligarchs, especially in Bulgaria. In 2008, Gazprom bought a majority stake in Serbian oil firm NIS. Like the European Union, Russia has provided funding to Serbia — about $1.5 billion in over the past two years. The Kremlin also sealed energy and loan deals with the Republika Srpska, the ethnic Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Western pressure may have ended the South Stream project, but the pipeline Russia plans to build in its place, Turkish Stream, could help Gazprom counter European energy diversification efforts. The pipeline would bring natural gas across the Black Sea to the Turkey-Greek border. To help Gazprom reach Central European markets, Russia has advocated the construction of a pipeline that would run from Greece to Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary. In addition to Turkey, these four countries are at the center of a Russian diplomatic offensive. Nevertheless, with Russia struggling to manage internal financial and political challenges, its leverage in the Balkans is relatively limited.

Turkish Interests

Turkey has its own cultural links and economic interests in the Balkans, but it currently lacks the resources and military power to rival Russia or the West.
One of Turkey's strategic objectives is to maintain influence in the Black Sea. Historically, Ankara has achieved this by anchoring itself on the Danube. By extension, this objective entails managing relations with other Black Sea states in the Balkans. But Turkey is also attempting to grow closer to Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Ankara means to enhance its influence through cultural and historical ties. These connections are important: Muslim Bosniaks started migrating to Turkey in the 17th century, and a few million Turkish citizens claim Bosniak roots today. This ethnic affinity has prompted popular government initiatives to invest in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Turkey cannot match the level of financial investment Western powers and Russia commit to the Balkans. But as the gatekeeper to the Black Sea and as a NATO member, Turkey plays a significant role in Bulgarian and Romanian efforts to boost defense cooperation in response to the crisis in Ukraine. Moreover, Turkey has been able to use financial and political tools to curry favor with Bosnia. Turkey is among the top five investors in the country. In fact, Turkish officials claim that Turkey has invested $1.1 billion in Bosnia since 1995 — a significant sum for a country with a gross domestic product of about $18 billion.  
The Turkish Stream pipeline, if built, would no doubt empower Turkey. Ankara would play a central role in its construction, and it would use that role to improve its relationships with countries that would receive Turkish Stream natural gas, including Macedonia and Serbia.

Violence in Macedonia

Despite the attention they command from larger powers, the Balkans are often unstable, and their instability can impede the influence of foreign powers. For example, deadly violence erupted in Macedonia on May 9, when Interior Ministry personnel cracked down on alleged ethnic Albanian militants in Kumanovo, culminating in the death of eight police officers and 14 alleged militants. Nearly 40 policemen were injured and 30 militants were arrested. There are also unconfirmed reports of civilian casualties.
The Macedonian government argued that its operation in the town was to prevent militants from carrying out planned terror attacks inside the country. However, the timing of the operation led many to believe the crackdown was politically motivated — a distraction that could divert attention from a recently discovered illegal government wiretapping program.
The bloodshed in Kumanovo, coupled with revelations of the illegal acquisition of information of citizens, further undermines the credibility of a government that is already distrusted by its people. On May 17, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Macedonia's capital city, Skopje. Western-sponsored talks the following day failed to bring about a compromise between the government and opposition parties, and the government's hold on power remains tenuous.
Russia is counting on running its extension of Turkish Stream through Macedonia into Central Europe, but the country's instability threatens to derail these plans at a time when countries along alternative routes are not receptive to Russian proposals. The incumbent Bulgarian government, under pressure from the United States and the European Union, is opposed to participation in a Russia-led energy project, while Albania retains a pro-Western foreign policy orientation.
With so much at stake, the Russian Foreign Ministry came out forcefully in support of the Macedonian government in response to the protests. The ministry criticized opposition parties and non-governmental groups alike, accusing them of being in league with Western powers and choosing to follow a chaotic "color revolution" ideology. Macedonia's incumbent government is nominally in favor of NATO and EU accession but has been open to Russia's Turkish Stream proposals. A weak government, as well as growing instability in Macedonia, is preventing the country from becoming a staunch Western ally or a reliable partner for Russia.

A Broader Regional Challenge

Clashes in Macedonia raise the specter of renewed ethnic tension and violence in the Balkans, where political borders do not coincide with ethnic boundaries. Though recent violence probably will not spill over into nearby countries in the immediate future, Macedonia's problems are a concern in the region. Serbia raised its combat alert status, and Bulgaria sent troops to reinforce the border.
Since 1999, Western governments have worked to stabilize Kosovo and the surrounding area through the presence of peacekeepers and large-scale development programs. Brussels is also pressuring Serbia to normalize relations with Kosovo as a precondition for EU accession. A potential increase in militancy along the Kosovo-Macedonia border would threaten this stability and undermine the West's long-standing efforts in the region.
Ultimately, no matter how much time and external political power is invested in the Balkans, success depends on the presence of strong, stable governance. But Balkan governments are notoriously weak. In Bulgaria, social unrest in 2013 forced the government to resign. Since then, the country has gone through several weak, short-lived governments that have been beset by internal disputes. Meanwhile in Bosnia-Herzegovina, political paralysis has prevented the introduction of much-needed economic and political reform. Protests over corruption in 2014 highlighted the Bosnian political system's inability to address the country's inherent problems.
The tumult of Balkan politics enables foreign powers to make certain inroads, boosting their influence through financial and political support for local governments. But the fragility of Balkan states prevents them from swinging decisively toward one outside power. Like other nations in Europe's borderlands, many of the Balkan countries have attempted to retain a degree of neutrality. A balancing strategy means that Balkan governments can access advantageous economic agreements, financial assistance packages and political support from multiple external powers.
Geopolitical rivalries and local disputes in the region have historically formed an explosive combination, fueling military conflicts like World War I as well as numerous Balkan armed struggles. Today, a more nuanced competition is taking place as foreign powers use economic influence, defense cooperation, and political support to further their goals in the region.
The conflict in Macedonia — and the potential it has to upset Russia's plans in the region — embodies the problems foreign powers find in the Balkans. While the West, Russia and Turkey are all eager to pump capital into the region for their own betterment, weak governments will continue balancing among outside powers.