CIVIL’s panel discussion “Russia-Ukraine crisis and North Macedonia” has started, which is part of the series of events titled “In the focus of CIVIL”.
The panel is attended by Ambassador of Ukraine, Н.Е. Natalia Zadorozhnyuk, Project Manager of “Disinformation and information distortion in North Macedonia”, Rosana Aleksoska from the Citizen’s Association MOST, Dean of the Faculty of Law at “Vision” University – Gostivar and first woman to obtain PhD at the Military Academy, Vesna Poposka, as well as journalists and analysts Aleksandar Nikolic Pisarev and Ljubomir Kostovski. Moderator of the event is Xhabir Deralla, President of CIVIL and Editor-in-Chief of CivilMedia.
“The Russia-Ukraine crisis started at the end of 2013 and culminated with a military aggression and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and military-political and propaganda support for pro-Russian paramilitary formations in eastern Ukraine. Currently, 7.2% of Ukrainian territory is under occupation, more than 100,000 Russian soldiers and heavy artillery are deployed on the border with Ukraine, serious diplomatic efforts to deter Russia from full invasion on Ukraine are in progress, said Deralla in the introduction of the panel” – Deralla said at the opening of the discussion.
This crisis has a strong impact on the whole world, with consequences already being felt in North Macedonia, as well as in the Western Balkan countries, emphasized Deralla.
“First and foremost, the Western Balkan countries are vulnerable in many aspects, especially because they are not under the umbrella of the EU, which has far greater economic and political power to protect its member states. Some of the Western Balkan countries are members of NATO, which is a “fortunate circumstance”. But the consequences in terms of the economy, as well as the strong propaganda pressure, make all the countries in the region vulnerable to political instability and crisis. Society and the public are divided into pro-Russian and pro-Western. More serious economic and energy shocks are also possible, if tensions remain” – Deralla warned.
CIVIL as an organization and CivilMedia as a media platform in Macedonian, Albanian and English, publish news from that region on a daily basis. Numerous analyses, statements and interviews have been made by using relevant sources that present the situation as it is to the Macedonian public, without propaganda and manipulation of the facts. The sources of CivilMedia are, among else, independent media both in Russia and Ukraine, official websites of the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministries, as well as sources of relevant media, experts and state institutions in the Western Balkan countries, the EU and the United States, Deralla revealed.
Н.Е. Natalia Zadorozhnyuk, Ambassador of Ukraine
“Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for the invitation to address the participants in this very important event.
It would be no exaggeration to say that today the fate of the international legal order is being decided. We will either live in a relatively stable world, with clear rules of the game for every country without exception, in accordance to the basic rules of international law, or the existing system will be completely destroyed.”
And now the issue is not so much in regards to the Ukraine-Russia relations, but rather the issue is much broader, it refers to all countries, including also to friendly North Macedonia. Either we are all on the side of the force of the law, or authoritarian Russia wins with its right to force.
As to precisely the Ukraine-Russia conflict, it’s always difficult with the neighboring countries, bur civilized countries resolve disputes between them in a civilized manner. I can’t imagine a neighboring country of Macedonia, in the 21st century, coming to you and stealing part of the territory, while at the same time killing 15,000 people. And only because your country wants to choose its future, its own path to development on its own.
The main reasons for this not only hybrid war but also real war, are Russia’s aspirations to renew the empire, to preserve its authoritarian regime, with the help of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldovia and Georgia to separate from the Western world. Russia wants to see our countries, and particularly Ukraine, as a controlled obstacle for the spreading of Western values, freedoms and democracy in Russia, which are threatening Putin’s regime. The strong, prosperous, democratic Ukraine is a serious threat to Putin’s regime.
In addition, Russia is trying, at the expense of Ukraine, to improve its demographic balance (the Slavic population is declining and emigrating, the number of other peoples is significantly growing), as well as to attribute to itself the economic and scientific-technical potential of Ukraine.
We, despite the great difficulties and loss of human lives, came out of that totalitarian system. Unfortunately, later than the Baltic countries, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary.
There are serious difficulties on our path, we need to develop, implement reforms and go to war at the same time. It’s very hard. But we are prepared. For us, freedom is not an empty sound. We have showed this throughout our history. We were oppressed by the Russian empire, destroyed by famine from the Stalinist system (you know that due to the artificial famine in 1932-33 in Ukraine, about 10 million innocent people lost their lives on the most fertile soils in the world).
I once told my friends ambassadors of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic that they should be lucky that Ukraine is located between them and Russia. If necessary, we will all unite, both those who are for President Zelensky and those who are for President Poroshenko, both those who speak Ukrainian and those who speak Russian. We are now much stronger than we were in 2014.
We have one of the most powerful armies in the world. We have strong support from the countries of the Western civilization, which have understood the essence of the Russian regime and Russian policy. Today the Russians come after Ukraine, tomorrow it will be after Poland, Romania, the Baltic states, the countries of the Balkans region.
Together with our allies we have formulated three directions for deterring Russia – diplomatic-political, economic-sanctioning and military-technical. The political one is solidarity with Ukraine, the economic one is strengthening the policy of sanctions that makes Russia much weaker, and the third one is the military assistance, provision of defense weapons.
In this direction, we also expect clear and unequivocal political support from friendly North Macedonia. We expect joining the sanctions of the European Union (you cannot sit in two chairs at once, there are times in life when you need to decide for yourself, primarily, on which side of the barricade you are on. The Ukrainians have a very convincing negative experience with neutrality.) If we are going to EU and NATO, if we are part of the European values, then we demonstrate this not only with words, but also with our actions and deeds.
And another moment I would like to outline. The Kremlin and its supporters in other countries (some of them paid, some of them blinded by the Russian propaganda) use hybrid weapons – information ones, cyber-attacks, fake Russian propaganda. This is mainly directed against, of course, Ukraine. However, the Kremlin uses it everywhere. And North Macedonia is no exception. Several examples, a picket was organized in front of the Embassy, even though they couldn’t gather many people, about a dozen people came with some incomprehensible slogans, some names were shouted out. People had pieces of paper with what to say written on them, and they couldn’t pronounce it correctly. Later, with an open letter I invited the organizer of this so-called action to come to the Embassy and to openly express his views. I am still waiting…
Or for example, now there are so many experts in the Macedonian information space, so many analysts on the Ukraine-Russia relations who don’t check the facts, but only take from sources in Russian language, express messages of Russian propaganda. Russia is “white and soft”, while the West, Ukraine are to be blamed for everything, they have insulted poor, helpless Russia. Everything has turned upside down. As a specific example from the presentation, it’s also clear from who the hysteria came out in the information space – we will not allow the Macedonians to protect the Ukrainians. But we didn’t even ask for such a thing. We have never turned to a single country with a request for them to give us soldiers. I repeat, we have a powerful army, we rely on ourselves above all. We expect from our partners political, economic and military-technical support.
In this context, I would like to thank Civil, CivilMedia for the correct and objective presentation of materials, the serious analysis with specific facts and arguments. You do exceptionally important work in resisting rudeness, vocal propaganda. This distinguishes professional media from biased-paid media.
I will end with what I started with. Either all of us civilized countries will unite based on democracy, state sovereignty, the right for each country to choose its own path of development, and will give strong resistance to the attempts for the world to divide into zones of influence, or we will lose in this, as I would call it, civilization war.
But I am sure that together we will win”, says Ambassador Zadorozhnyuk in her speech.
Aleksandar Nikolic Pisarev, analyst
People these days are asking me – when will this crisis end? We can’t expect for it to end immediately, with the meeting between Macron and Putin, this will last, there will be muscle building, who will bargain better. If you watched the opening of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, there was a statement during the signing of a declaration between Putin and Xi, there was an extended simple sentence, in which it was said that the two countries will fight to uphold political and military benefits of Second World War. If with this sentence Putin meant, and I think he did mean, upholding the divisions, namely, of the countries that never even belonged to the Russian sphere, then that is very serious and dangerous, says Pisarev.
We now have information coming from the Western alliance and from the Western partners that Moscow has replied in writing, but that the Kremlin is persistently denying that. If they say they have sent it, they will, however, clash with certain pro-democratic structures in Russia itself, who will ask: Boss, what was in that letter, let’s see, this, nevertheless, is not a feudal system…. The first who would ask such a question are the Russian oligarchs, who in this entire situation are on the edge of the knife, whether they will lose part of their wealth or will manage to save it.
Russian influence in Macedonia has always been present and strong, we had this also in the series of parliamentary election and so on, especially in the referendum in 2018. However, according to what is being written, another fact concerns me. We had a day of protecting the Internet from fake news and propaganda. Here it’s very important, and CIVIL is doing this very successfully and strongly, that a much stronger coalition against fake news and propaganda is formed.
Vesna Poposka, Dean of the Faculty of Law at “Vision” University – Gostivar
“I think that the conflict will be treated as a conflict with a low intensity. It won’t cross the threshold of a general war. This is due to many contexts, but primarily to the doctrine of Valery Gerasimov, who has been quite popular these past ten years, where warfare that is not so visible appears as the main method of the Russian doctrine. It is what is now called a hybrid or cyber-attack, information conflict, or all those atypical military actions.
The global change in the world, after the fall of the Cold war, has generally changed the manner of warfare, and it’s said that now we are in that fifth generation, where we are no longer buried in trenches, but fight in many ways, whereas the entire planet is practically a battlefield for different reasons. Unfortunately, liberal values are victims of their own ideals, and unfortunately, what was our greatest advantage, civilization and ideals, democracy and the way they are used, are currently being abused, by various actors, not only by Russia, but also by other countries and other concepts, even at the national level…, Poposka says among else.
Ljubomir Kostovski, analyst
I would first like to talk about the “Minsk 2” peace agreement, which was the subject of the visit by the French President to Moscow and Kiev. This is an essential agreement, as whether there will be peace or war for now is based on it, because Macron also insists on its implementation, which means that in a certain way, Western support increasingly more wants to “focus on” a certain document, and let’s not forget, France is a co-signer of that document, which means it is a kind of a guarantee, which is not causing admiration in Kiev. I understand their feeling and reaction, since that agreement, like “Minsk I”, has been signed in very unfavorable circumstances for Ukraine, when it was military-wise inferior, in 2014, when it lost both Crimea and a great part of Donbas, from separatist forces, with huge help of Russia.
There are things that have been provided in the agreement, they are not very favorable, especially the way Russia understands that agreement, for example – to form a people’s militia on the territory of Donbas, and for it to be the only armed formation that would mainly be composed of the local population, and we know from the Yugoslav wars, how those paramilitary formations…. An independent judiciary and independent prosecution should be set up, which practically means a big step of separation of that territory, said Kostovski among other things.
Rosana Aleksoska – MOST
The project “Fight against fake news and narratives”, is being implemented since 2018. However, I have been personally dedicated to research on such information since 2016. Our primary interest are disinformation narratives. When we talk about disinformation narratives, we need to be aware and try to see the big picture. Not every disinformation, as an individual information, can have an impact. However, if we look at them as a chronological wholeness, in a certain period of time, in a certain context, on a certain topic, then things become clearer and we can see more clearly what the goal is actually, and what it’s all about.
From what we have noticed so far, not only in the study, but also from other analyses that have been published on our website, overall, I can say that most of the disinformation narratives that are directed against the West, against the US, the EU or NATO, at the same time, directly or indirectly, also mean promotion or glorification of Russia. A range of factors are usually used, but also abused, such as the legacy of communism or socialism, the Slavic origin and religion, and the openness to democratic societies.
In societies where Orthodox population lives, Russia, as a rule, promotes narratives about the Slavic identity and Orthodoxy, through various types of media, academia, intellectuals and various organizations, the Church, culture, certain politicians and political parties. In our case, in the Balkans, and even in the part of Central Europe, Russia is directing citizens towards the concept of shared values of the Slavic and Orthodox brothers, and thus, as if it is monopolizing this concept, and normally, this narrative is intensified with the narrative that we as peoples have nothing in common with the Western world, which is absolutely not true. This contributes to wrong perceptions about our Western allies, but introduces discord and divisions in our multiethnic society and state, outlines Aleksoska.
Camera: Dehran Muratov
Multimedia: Arian Mehmeti
Translation: Natasha Cvetkovska