North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said that attempts to widen economic cooperation with Russia are not a response to the EU’s refusal to give his country a start date for membership negotiations.
Zoran Zaev told a Russia-North Macedonia economic forum in Skopje on Thursday that the event and the reactivation of an inter-governmental commission on trade with Russia do not mean that his country is seeking an alternative to Euro-Atlantic integration.
“This is not a message. We are working on improving our standards. We are doing everything to bring benefits to our people,” Zaev said when asked by reporters about whether this was Skopje’s reaction after last month’s failure by the European Council to grant a start date for his country’s EU accession talks.
“There is no alternative to the EU and NATO,” Zaev said, adding that at the same time the country has to improve economic ties with countries like Russia and China, as well as Asian and Middle Eastern countries where there is much untapped potential.
Zaev also stated that North Macedonia, like neighbouring Serbia, is not going to join the EU’s economic sanctions against Russia, which Brussels instigated over the Ukrainian crisis.
On Thursday he addressed the forum and received a Russian delegation led by Russia’s Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade, Aleksei Gruzdev.
The forum, the first after a five-year pause, continues on Friday in North Macedonia’s lakeside town of Ohrid with a meeting of the joint inter-governmental commission.
Since the last one, political relations between the two countries have suffered setbacks due to suspicions of alleged Russian involvement in North Macedonia’s political crisis.
The North Macedonian government has estimated that trade with Russia has somewhat stagnated and in the first half of this year only represented 1.1 per cent of the country’s overall foreign trade exchange.
Participants at the forum on Thursday agreed to widen cooperation in agriculture, energy and transportation, and to explore other areas as well.
Speaking at the forum, Zaev said that tourism and agriculture in particular offer new possibilities for increased cooperation.
He invited Russian companies to consider opening collection points in his country so that North Macedonian agricultural produce can more easily find its way to Russian markets, and also called on them to invest in the ongoing process of installing gas pipelines.
“There is specific potential opening up in this area with the construction of primary gas infrastructure, after which there will be possibilities for investments and partnership in the planning and construction of the distribution systems for natural gas across the entire territory of our country. I am using this opportunity to invite companies from Russia to participate in this serious business activity,” Zaev said.
The Russian ambassador to North Macedonia, Sergey Bazdnikin, said meanwhile that the forum was also very important for bilateral relations “between our friendly countries and brotherly nations”.
President to attend victory parade in Moscow
At a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday on the sidelines of the Paris Peace Forum, North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski was invited to and agreed to attend next year’s Victory Day Parade in Moscow on May 9, which will celebrate 75 years since the capitulation of Nazi Germany.
“One of the main principles of our country is the fight against fascism. That means that I will certainly be there,” Pendarovski said after meeting Lavrov.