Sofia – Skopje Rivalry and NATO Worries
Bulgaria's insistence on blocking EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia poses risks of creating a new rift on NATO's southeastern flank. Two of the Member States, Greece and Turkey, are already deeply divided. It seems that collisions between two other countries will now arise because of a two-century old dispute on an ethnic basis, writes in his analysis for Kathimerini Stavros Tsimas.
Both Bulgaria and North Macedonia are key regional members of the Alliance. Bulgaria because of its role as supervisor over the Black Sea and southern Russia, and North Macedonia as a buffer against further Russian expansion in the heart of the Balkans. Both countries feel very strongly the impact of the U.S.-Russian conflict over influence.
NATO, however, seems troubled by the Sofia-Skopje rivalry, seeing it as a European issue that needs to be resolved by EU Member States. Bulgaria's objections to North Macedonia's accession to the EU do not stem from accession criteria, such as the need to strengthen democracy and fight corruption.
Instead, these disputes are fueled by historical allegations that fan up nationalism in both countries and will soon have an impact on NATO unless those differences are resolved, the analyst believes.
Anti-Bulgarian sentiments in North Macedonia grow stronger with the blessing of political leadership and the media, and Skopje's stance towards Sofia is becoming more aggressive. The refusal of Sofia to participate in a US air policing in North Macedonia, as well as the withdrawal from the project for the Bulgarian Belene nuclear power plant, is indicative of that.
Instead, Sofia chose to support the natural gas project in the northern port of Greece, Alexandroupolis.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria is preparing for elections in the spring, and the political class relies mainly on nationalist sentiment, trying to shape a new Balkan agenda inspired by the Ottoman Empire and great aspirations of the 19th century, accusing its Balkan brethren of deviating from the right path, the analysis says. /BGNES
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