Cut off from Europe: FYROM’s pains and Greece

by Costas Iordanidis

(“Kathimerini”, English Edition, August 13, 2001)

The prospect of a peace accord between Albanians and Slavs in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) does not address Greece’s deep concerns over stability in the region, as the gap which separates the two conflicting ethnic groups in this Balkan country has become unbridgeable. But a recent source of anxiety for Greece is the danger of losing its road connection with the rest of Europe. Such a prospect would, of course, entail grave political and economic consequences. According to sources inside the Foreign Ministry, the so-called 11th Brigade of ethnic Albanian guerrillas has deployed west of Veles, and therefore the international highway which connects Greece with Belgrade and Central Europe lies within the range of ethnic Albanian military action.

Ethnic Albanians have mobilized west of Skopje where government soldiers were killed in an ambush, but so far the international highway has not been in danger. Anxiety would not run so deep if Greece’s allies deployed in the Balkan peninsula had not been overcome by a dangerous inertia, for fear of retaliation by ethnic Albanian rebels against NATO troops in Kosovo.

The Greek government has clear indications that the United States — perhaps because they are seeking to defuse the conflict — do not wish to enhance FYROM’s military capacity. During her visit to Ukraine, Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, asked the government of that country to cease supplying military materiel to Skopje — a demand that was finally met. At the same time, the US government notified Athens that the arms supply to Skopje must correspond to the needs of FYROM. What remains unclear, however, is what construction Washington puts on the word “needs” when a third of the country’s territory is controlled by guerrilla forces. It seems that the US and Greece’s other allies wish to keep the international highway open but they are unwilling to take the necessary measures to do so. This inertia, however, may create a serious security vacuum which will have to be filled by the countries in the region.

Greece, FYROM and Serbia are the three states which will suffer if they are cut off from Central Europe. The prospect of a tripartite warning (after NATO has been informed) of common action in case their interests are jeopardized by a threat to the international highway should not be excluded.

Such a warning will, of course, upset ethnic Albanians. Furthermore, it would create an axis of only some of the countries in the region. But if NATO allies fail to secure Greece’s road connection with Europe, then this will obviously have to be done by the interested states in the region.


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