Disputing Kammenos, Russia, FYROM Says Name Deal with Greece Not Rigged

FILE - People waving FYROM and EU flags march through downtown Skopje, FYROM, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

Rejecting accusations from Russia that a Parliamentary vote to change the Constitution and ratify a deal with Greece to change its name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s (FYROM) Foreign Ministry said the fix wasn’t in.

By the exact number of votes needed – 80 – FYROM’s Parliament approved the deal and agreed to remove irredentist claims on Greek lands, including the real Macedonia, an abutting ancient province, as well as the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.

The agreement would see FYROM become North Macedonia but its citizens allowed to be called Macedonian and have a Macedonian language and culture, and see the door opened for entry to NATO and opening European Union accession talks.

It required a two-thirds vote and Russia, which doesn’t want another country admitted into NATO to interfere with its interest in the Balkans, said it was achieved through a combination of blackmail, threats and vote-buying.

FYROM Premier Zoran Zaev was eight votes short when the debate began and Russia said those were gained “through blackmail, and threatening and bribing opposition deputies,” the news agency Reuters said.

“We view what happened as an open violation of all norms, both from a legal and moral point of view. Such dirty manipulations cannot be regarded as an expression of parliamentarians’ will,” the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

In a statement, FYROM’s Foreign Ministry said it considers the claim as “completely unfounded and untrue and that Russia was trying to compromise “a political process of historic significance for Macedonia and its citizens,” using the name by which it calls itself in violation of a 1991 agreement with Greece, which allowed the new country emerging from the collapse of Yugoslavia to use the name temporarily before successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek lands.

Russia also said that the US ambassador to FYROM “orchestrated” the vote rigging without explaining how it was done.

A US State Department official said the claim was a lie and that Washington supports the agreement as an historic opportunity to promote stability, security and prosperity in the region, using carefully coded diplomatic language.

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who heads the minor, pro-austerity, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in the coalition headed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ Radical Left SYRIZA, also said bribes were paid to insure the deal was sealed.

He said he would yank his marginal party from the government if it comes to a vote in the Greek Parliament but also said he won’t stand in the way of the deal, allowing him to simultaneously oppose and support the pact that was reached with the help of UN envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who had failed for two decades to find an answer before resuming talks earlier this year after a three-year break as the US pushed for North Macedonia to get into NATO.

The name deal paves the way for FYROM to join NATO, which is something vehemently opposed by Moscow.