Putin Overplays His Hand

This summer, the governments of Greece and the Republic of Macedonia reached an agreement that would finally put to rest a decades-long diplomatic dispute over Macedonia's name. By reportedly attempting to derail the rapprochement, the Kremlin has shown that even countries sympathetic to Russia cannot trust it.

DENVER – The Kremlin’s foreign policy increasingly seems to rest on the assumption that all countries are as corruptible as Vladimir Putin’s Russia. This was evident most recently in Russia’s alleged efforts to undermine an agreement between Greece and its tiny northern neighbor, the Republic of Macedonia, over the latter’s name. Assuming that Macedonians approve a September 30 referendum, their country will henceforth be known as the Republic of North Macedonia.  

The agreement was not easy to reach. The quintessentially Balkan dispute between Greece and Macedonia dates back at least to 1991, when Macedonia, then one of Yugoslavia’s poorest republics, declared its independence, and adopted the name Republic of Macedonia. That appellation would go on to have significant real-world consequences for the fledgling country of 2.1 million people.

Because the northern region of Greece is also formally known as Macedonia, the two countries ended up in a multi-decade naming dispute. Greece vetoed the Republic of Macedonia’s bids to join Western alliances and multilateral institutions, even as its neighbors Bulgaria and Albania were accepted into NATO and, in the case of Bulgaria, into the European Union. It was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.”