Capital Skopje
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 389
Mobile Codes 70,71,72,75,76,78
ccTLD .mk
Currency Denar (1EUR = 61.5MKD)
Land Area 25,713 sq km
Population 2.1 million
Language Macedonian
Major Religions Orthodox Christianity, Islam

Europe’s Macedonian Intervention, Part 5: Transition Phase and Intelligence Assessments

By Chris Deliso

The previous installments of this series on European involvement in Macedonia’s crisis comprise the beginnings of’s comprehensive deep background series, known as The Great Unraveling. It will continue indefinitely, as new and important information keeps flowing in, as people become more frustrated and outspoken about the impasse.

On the Surface Still

So far, our series has basically stayed at the level of surface politics; this is not because deeper connections do not exist, but simply because we must first set the stage for what is to come- and to prove how, even at the level of surface politics, European intervention has failed due to problems with professional capacities, goals, time limitations and institutional self-protection mechanisms that have all contributed to a deep mistrust of the whole venture, and further divisions, in Macedonia. In other words, even in the case that deeper issues had not existed, the problems of the day could not have been resolved by the means officially chosen. Yet had the powers-that-be made different choices, at least the crisis’ continuation would have been avoidable. It was simply handled incorrectly.

Indeed, watching the crisis unfold has been like seeing one of those gruesome botched beheadings in which the victim writhes in agony because the executioner is too incompetent to get a clean cut. This failure is part – but only part – of the reason why German Special Envoy Johannes Haindl and US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland are soon returning to Skopje. It is another validation of what we have already isolated: one year on from the supposedly conclusive Przino Agreement, the EU has lost its credibility and leverage in Macedonia.

Recounting the Series

Ten days have now passed since the fourth installment of this series, in which we isolated the flaws of the June 8 2015 Priebe Report in the context of pre-existing EU policy (Part 3) and key factors that occurred in early 2015, like the Hahn Cabinet’s decision to treat the crisis as a “rule of law” issue (Part 2).

Finally, some 17 days have now passed since we discussed the EU’s self-defensive tactics of media patronage and evasiveness, which not incidentally have contributed to the chronically delayed and incomplete reporting of the current series (Part 1). Ironically, only after a sharp social media comment yesterday did we get a partial answer to some of the questions sent over a month ago to Hahn Spokeswoman Maja Kocijančič.  It is unfortunate that it is necessary to criticize an official on Twitter in order to prod them into doing their job.

Current State of Affairs

As of June 30, 2016, the major parties in Macedonia remain deadlocked, with the cancellation of previously agreed June 5 elections earlier this spring indicating again a tendency of parties to not negotiate in good faith, and a continuingly naïve attitude from the Europeans that they actually ever intended to do so.

The EU’s diminished capacities locally have been damaged further by last week’s Brexit vote, which has caused internal instability and shifted the focus northward. This has created further opportunity for individual states (namely, the US and Germany) to take an active role in crisis resolution attempts. The possibility of ‘Brexit contagion’ will be used both by Euro-federalists as a threat that can only be met by political union, and by Eurosceptics as a precedent against such union.

When first elected as EU leader in 2014, Juncker promised no further enlargement until at least 2020. A vacuum was created in which politicians of candidate countries were freed to do as they pleased since there was no incentive to cooperate within any upcoming election cycle. Juncker effectively handed Austria’s nomination for commissioner of enlargement, Johannes Hahn, with a mandate that needed no fulfillment. It should have been a very low-pressure job, but has turned out anything but that.

In fact, the only reason why the EU has paid significant attention to Balkan countries has been the migrant crisis since June 2015. Now, the anticipated second migrant wave that we have long predicted will begin anytime Turkish President Erdoğan chooses. Now that he has made moves to soothe tensions with powers to the north (Russia) and south (Israel) the Turkish leader is in a much stronger position to pressure Brussels over the migration deal which was never more than a desperate attempt to buy time.

Maybe some of its supporters expected it to magically solve the situation, but since then the increasing prominence of Egypt and Libya in the illegal migration game is also causing pressure and a tactical rethink in Europe. This should free up some of the pressure on Macedonia and other Balkan countries, which may also use the renewed migration crisis as a weapon to further punish Brussels for perceived interference. Only Brussels is not aware of this.

A Changing of the Guard

In Macedonia specifically, European diplomacy is going through a phase change. August 2016 will see the end of mandate for two of the most high-profile diplomats mentioned frequently by media throughout the crisis, EU Delegation leader Aivo Orav and Italian Ambassador Ernesto Massimo Bellelli. Also leaving is the Slovenian ambassador, Branko Rankovec (who was not specified by local media for any role in the crisis).

The departure of the first two ambassadors will remove a huge burden from their respective diplomatic apparatuses, as they have been consistently blamed by media, rightly or wrongly, for playing an outsized role in Macedonian internal affairs during the crisis. Yet the alleviation of subterranean pressures on EU and Italian diplomacy in the past two years will have unpredictable effects. For example, the pressure on both men has partially influenced them to do more ‘positive engagement’ (such as fundraising, bringing investments, giving ceremonial awards and so on) than they might otherwise have done. It will be interesting to see whether their replacements, free of these pressures, will continue their predecessors’ initiatives as they themselves will not be similarly burdened.

There is an interesting detail for the historical record. Both Orav and his expected replacement (Samuel Žbogar, current EU envoy to Kosovo) had been appointed at the same time, on 21 December 2011, by the same official. That was the former British Commissioner for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, who was replaced by Italy’s Federica Mogherini in 2014. Ashton’s term coincided with a very important period in international involvement in pre-crisis Macedonia, which will be covered in the author’s upcoming ebook, The Macedonian Mosaic.

As we have already recounted in this series, Aivo Orav was never allowed to speak with by the EU. Only they know why.  Ambassador Bellelli, however, did (after some persuasion) manage to make time for an exclusive interview with, which we will discuss at the appropriate point in our upcoming series on Italian security concerns in the MENA/Balkan region.

It should also be noted that there are several foreign diplomats who will not be cycling out this year, and who have taken a similarly visible role in the crisis. Their activities too will be mentioned in the relevant contexts as we move forward.

Observed Trends

As we have noted, one clear trend throughout the crisis has been a reliance on ‘cunning plans’- political and security stratagems that have never fully succeeded. This is due largely to their tactical rather than strategic nature. The damage that these failures have caused has multiplied the pre-existing problems.

This has been most serious for internationals, because tactical failures cannot worsen the perception of local actors who already have long lost all public credibility. And in any case, Macedonian system society absorbs and internalizes everything, until it passes into folklore. (Perhaps the only good thing about this tendency is the sign of a very patient and tolerant society).

The general result of this is an increased tendency towards promoting violent extremism as more reasonable options become exhausted and actors grow more impatient. There is also an increased reliance on local patronage schemes which, it is perhaps overoptimistically believed, will help contain the damage and ideally, cover up foreign involvement since even before the coup plot began from August 2014. But that is in the murky depths beneath surface politics and as such, a topic for another time.

In this light, the general history of foreign interventionism in Macedonia can be understood as a series of tactical gaffes that have required a resolution through the legitimization of parallel institutions (most notably, the ‘Special Prosecutor’s Office’) to guarantee that everything gets swept under the rug and that the right people are punished for a desired political result.

A Prosecution that Is Special, in Every Sense of the Word

However – and still, at the level of surface politics – the very concept of an SPO was always fatally flawed. This is symptomatic of the rushed and ill-conceived thinking that informed the entire process of foreign interventionism since February 2015.

As with the Priebe Report itself, this is reflected by choice of language. The official Przino Agreement of 15 July 2015 states that “by 15 September 2015, there shall be a new, Special Prosecutor with full autonomy to lead the investigations surrounding and arising from the interception of communications.”

The terminology italicized above was deliberately vague. It essentially entitled this new and unusual entity to do anything it wanted. Without any clear limitations on mandate or methods, and with a massive budget of 4 million euros, it naturally took a maximalist and extremely aggressive approach that has alienated the majority of the public and resulted in one PR disaster after another. Literally everything the SPO does now reinforces the argument of ex-PM Gruevski, that the body was set up to arrest him and his colleagues while rewarding the opposition.

Thus once again an instrument of tactical foreign intervention has backfired. It is not in the interests of Western media to make a substantive investigation of the SPO from Przino times until now; instead, they have tried to emphasize a cult of personality aspect, as with the BBC’s absurd and meaningless recent comparison of the carefully-selected SPO team to ‘Charlie’s Angels.’ This identification (with fictional characters, at least fitting in that regard) was first developed in the German media and has since metastasized like a cancer among Western propagandists for the opposition cause.

Nevertheless, as with the work of the SPO itself, its foreign PR support continues to perpetuate simmering Macedonian public distrust of all Western interests. Again, both action and rhetoric increase the divide between outside perception and local reality.

Tactical Assessments for a Summer of Unconventional Warfare, and a Fall of Planned Change

In early May both MI6 and BND assets visited Macedonia, from north and from south. Another tactical failure had recently occurred, and the emphasis was on field assessment of the future viability of the Colorful Revolution crowd funded by Soros and various other outside interests. can confirm that the cumulative assessment indicated disappointment with the movement’s failure to gain traction and credibility among the general public. The frustration with this lack of a result has recently led to infighting and competition within the revolutionary ranks, which itself also plays into the hands of pro-government supporters.

Western secret services have assessed that a six to nine month period will be required in order for the executioner of their policy instrument (SDSM) to be in a position in which it can even compete in elections. Until then, a low-grade war of attrition – ideally, complemented by some high-level arrests – will continue. However, sources indicate that any election for fall will be delayed until (as has been argued variously) next year, to coincide with scheduled local elections.

Until then, the actions and counter-actions from pro-opposition and pro-government supporters will be conditioned by the following factors: the outcome of US-German overseen negotiations; reactions to the NATO Summit’s expected rejection of Macedonian membership; the potential revived migrant crisis, and the inevitability of summer vacation reducing the number of available protesters.

Colorful revolutionaries have been told in no uncertain terms, however, that the continuation of their funding will depend on continuing to ‘show up’ through the summer, even if this interferes with their vacations. They have even been requested to ‘escalate their activities to the next level,’ as one foreign observer recently told

In the same way that the Hahn Cabinet originally envisioned a ‘two-track’ solution to the crisis (in March 2015), we have now in reality a two-speed unconventional war. There is a long-term, slow-speed plan for supporting and replenishing the opposition through various soft-power tactics, which will probably fail but which will pay enough to keep the depleted movement going.

At the same time, the fast-speed unconventional warfare that will continue throughout the summer will feature offenses and counter-offensives in both i/ops and various more tangible efforts. It is hard to predict exactly what they will be, but we expect at some point the war will take on an international tenor. In other words, physical manifestations of the antagonism between pro-SDSM and pro-VMRO factions will be seen outside of Macedonia.

Depending on the outcome of this war of attrition, the conditions will be ripe for a movement towards not only political, but also structural change in Macedonia. That is the big question in the background. For certain powers, the changing of one politician or another does not suffice to make the long-term changes deemed necessary for local transformation. Although this is beyond the outside media’s interest, the local population is very much aware that the future of the country will depend on the events of the next months- 2016 will be known as the year when the ‘dead period’ of summer was actually rather lively.

Illuminating Conclusions

The intensification of unconventional warfare on all fronts is necessary for another purpose; the distraction of foreign media from the very real international scandals that have not been reported but that are intimately at the heart of the Macedonian crisis. Diplomatic sources indicate that the great powers are becoming increasingly frustrated with the SPO’s incompetence and inability to sweep everything under the rug. That is ultimately, of course, the fault of the people who chose those running that particular sideshow.

Thus, once again the trend of tactical failure will have to manifest in more aggressive rhetoric and even violence. But one of the most interesting and recurring aspects of the Macedonian crisis, from an objective standpoint, is the constant creation of new scandals throughout tactical failures meant to obscure the old ones.

As such, things can only conclude with an obscuring of the cumulative deeds that have darkened the local landscape for the past two years and more, or through a peaceful illumination of the facts of events as they have happened. The latter might not end up being as painful as many fear, for the long-term good of the country and those involved with it.