The president of Russia, Vladimir Putin provoked anger in Bulgarian society and officials after he told his Macedonian colleague George Ivanov on May 24 which was the Day of Slavic Literacy, that the Cyrillic script came from Macedonia.“The Slavic alphabet and literature came to us from Macedonian soil”, Putin said during the Macedonian President’s visit to Moscow.

Bulgaria, which also celebrated the Day of Bulgarian Education, Culture and the Slavonic Alphabet on Tuesday, disagreed with this reading of history. “The creation of literacy happened due to the will, and participation, of the Bulgarian state and it is hardly a coincidence that the Bulgarian ruler Boris I is present in all ancient Bulgarian books as Boris-Mihail – the Baptizer, who introduced the faith and literacy. This is not only our holiday, and the Cyrillic script is shared. But it has to be known that we remember our history and we are proud of it” Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.

Ilian Vassilev, a former Bulgarian ambassador to Moscow, accused Putin of “playing with Serbia and Macedonia” in order to increase pressure on Sofia.“When Putin talks about history in this way, this means current politics which lays on the Russian imperial traditions,” he said, calling Putin’s statement “a provocation against Bulgaria”.

Putin’s words are not “accidental” or “a mistake”

Russia is losing more and more areas of influence in the Balkans. NATO has already closed the entire Adriatic coast-  Slovenia, Croatia, Albania and Greece are members of the alliance. Montenegro is making its final steps towards  NATO and the European Union is in an active regime of reconciliation between the groups in Macedonia. And all this while Serbia will be ready by the end of June to open five negotiation chapters in its EU accession talks. In this light, Moscow is attempting to keep an influential position in the area with Putin calling Macedonian president Geogre Ivanov a “trusted man” in Skopje. Earlier Russia opposed to the formation of a government led by SDSM (Social Democratic Union of Macedonia) leader Zoran Zaev (regardless of the outcome of the elections) with President George Ivanov, who was dependent on it, doing everything possible to keep the mandate far beyond Zaev’s hands until the last.

By the way, a curious fact is that in 2016 the Macedonian singer Aleksandar Džeparovski, wrote a song in which Putin is asked to come and finish the job in FYR of Macedonia and to save the country from the EU, NATO, and the USA, and the Russian president replies that he will do so as soon as he finished his issue in Syria. This song became a major hit during the presidential and parliament election campaigns in the same year, and apart from social networks, it could be heard on local radio stations.

The Kremlin reaching over the Balkans

Earlier this month Macedonian television station Telma reported that advisor at the Serbian embassy in Skopje and BIA officer Goran Zivaljevic, was in the Assembly of Macedonia at the time it was stormed by violent protesters. Asked “what he was doing in the Assembly, outside the diplomatic protocol,” Zivaljevic told the media, that he was there on official business, to see whether Serbian citizens, sports fans or extremists, were involved in the incident.  At the same time, it is alleged that the premier of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic, has close ties with Moscow and that Belgrade is planning a complete rearmament of the Serbian army with Russian weapons. It is also alleged that the Serbian premier had been used like “messenger” to express Russia’s dissatisfaction with the fact that in Macedonia there will be a government led by Zoran Zaev, leader of the Social-Democrats.

Later  Zaev – who received a mandate to form a government in the middle of May- accused Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic of running a hostile “campaign”, when talking about an alleged “Macedonian scenario” that would then create instability in Serbia as well.

Behind all these events, it is easy to see the intervention of the Kremlin’s long hand. For Russia, it will be hard to reconcile with being pushed out of the Balkans and losing its influence in Southeast Europe. But only the future will show how successful Putin’s game will be.

Milen Marinov
Bulgarian journalist and devoted to the European cause.

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