NATO head Jens Stoltenberg has sent a letter to Macedonia’s President Gjorge Ivanov stating that the alliance has no interest in interfering in the internal political process of the country and “does not take sides”.
However, Stoltenberg also emphasizes that NATO has an interest in “upholding… the political values and principles upon which the alliance is based” and urged political leaders in Skopje to take the necessary steps to form a government quickly. Significantly, he did not specify what the composition of such a government should be.
Here Stoltenberg parts ways with most EU leaders who have visited Skopje since the elections in December 2016. The vote resulted in a political stalemate and left Macedonia without a government. EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn have both visited Skopje in recent months to try to encourage Ivanov to grant a mandate to the “opposition-led coalition government” of SDSM and the main Albanian party DUI. But Ivanov has been steadfast in his refusal. VMRO-DPMNE, led by ex-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, won the December election by a slender margin, with 51 out of 120 seats in parliament. So SDSM subsequently made a deal with DUI to form a coalition government, albeit by accepting several demands of significant interest to the entire country but only introduced during the political dealmaking after the election. Ivanov has therefore refused to grant the “opposition-led coalition” a mandate to form a government.
The letter from the Secretary General of NATO will likely disappoint Macedonia’s opposition and its supporters. They have relied heavily on support from foreign leaders in the hopes that they will eventually be able to pressure or, as it was suggested today, even threaten Ivanov into granting their coalition permission to come to power. In Politico, journalists with scant knowledge about Macedonia have even tried to portray those skeptical of this plan as “Russia-aligned”.
It will be very difficult to dismiss Stoltenberg and his refusal to force a particular political outcome or to take sides in Macedonia’s political crisis as such.