Macedonia has taken a big step towards joining Nato after allies signed a key document that could see the tiny Balkans country become the 30th member of the world’s biggest military alliance.
Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov led the ‘accession protocol’ signing ceremony on Wednesday at the alliance’s Brussels headquarters.
Greece had previously blocked Macedonia’s Nato membership for a decade over a name dispute, but Macedonia has agreed to change its tittle to ‘North Macedonia’ to gain access to Nato and the EU.
The historic announcement is likely to anger Vladimir Putin, as reports suggested in recent weeks Russian agents had been attempting to undermine Macedonia’s accession to the organization.
Russia was said to have flooded social media with fake news and subsidizing local extremists before citizens voted to join NATO on September 30 last year.
‘No doubt that [the Russians] have transferred money and they are also conducting broader influence campaigns,’ Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on a recent visit to Skopje.
Facebook pages spread by fake news organizations urged people to boycott the NATO referendum and told people to burn their ballot papers.
US policymakers have previously accused Russia of spreading discord throughout the Balkans and hindering sovereign nations’ attempts to join the EU at any cost.
The republic of just over two million people was formally invited to join the NATO alliance in 2008, but its membership was vetoed by Greece, where there is strong opposition to Macedonia’s name.
Athens sees the former Yugoslav republic’s name as a threat to its own administrative region of Macedonia.
The accession protocol must be ratified by all 29 Nato members. Greece is set to become the first to do so this week.
Macedonia will then start calling itself North Macedonia and will join under that name, possibly later this year or in early 2020.
Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said the country would change its name ‘in a matter of days’ following the signing of the accession protocol.
‘This wasn’t inevitable – this wasn’t even very likely to happen,’ he said, praising the political leaders on both sides who proved ‘the impossible is actually doable’.
‘This is a family that strives to make our world more peaceful and a better place. This is a journey that has made us more mature… we have proven that we can assume our responsibility, face a problem, and resolve those problems,’ he said.
‘In a matter of days, we’ll resolve the last remaining dispute we have with any of our neighbours.’