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News 24 May 17

Macedonia President Greeted Warmly in Moscow

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov has hurried to meet President Vladimir Putin in Moscow - after caving into Western pressure to allow the Social Democrats to form a government.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. Photo: MIA

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov, on a visit to Russia, is expected to meet President Putin on Wednesday to "discuss issues pertaining to further development of bilateral cooperation", Putin's office wrote in a press release.

"They will also exchange opinions on current regional issues and, primarily, on the situation in the Balkans," the same press release reads.

One day earlier, Ivanov was warmly greeted in Moscow and awarded the "Patriarch Alexy II Award", a medal in the gift of the International Public Foundation for the Unity of Orthodox Christian Nations, IFUOCN.

The award, bestowed personally by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, was for Ivanov's "efforts to strengthen the role of religion in society, promote Christian values and religious tolerance, as well as improve the ties between the Orthodox nations", Macedonia's state-run MIA news agency said.

"I embrace this recognition as Macedonian President and an Orthodox Christian, born and raised under the umbrella of the resurrected church of St Clement, the Macedonian Orthodox Church," Ivanov said on receiving the prize.

[Macedonia's Orthodox Church proclaimed its autocephaly, a form of ecclesiastical independence, in 1967 - which most other Orthodox Churches have not recognised, however.]

Other recipients of the religious award include Russia's President, Putin, its Prime Minister, Dimitri Medvedev, and its Foreign Minister, Sergey lavrov. Last year the award went to Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic.

Ivanov's visit to Moscow was arranged abruptly - and follows his surrender to Western diplomatic pressure to allow the opposition Social Democrats to form a government.

In the past few months, Ivanov played a major role in preventing the transfer of power in Macedonia from the nationalist VMRO DPMNE party - which Moscow favoured.

Ivanov had withheld the offer of a mandate to form a new government from the Social Democrats under Zoran Zaev since early March, despite Zaev having mustered a majority in parliament with the support of ethnic Albanian parties.

Like the VMRO DPMNE party, Ivanov - who comes from the ranks of this party - had insisted that Zaev posed a danger to national sovereignty because of his acceptance of various demands set by his partner Albanian parties, focusing on greater language and economic rights. Ethnic Albanians who make up about a quarter of the country's population.

During this period, Russia vocally supported VMRO's and Ivanov's positions, accusing the West of interfering in Macedonia's internal affairs. Ivanov finally yielded, however, and gave the mandate to Zaev last Wednesday.

That occurred after supporters of the VMRO DPMNE party stormed the parliament in Skopje on April 27, injuring some 100 people, including 10 MPs, and after his talks with the visiting US US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hoyt Yee.

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