Interview with Colonel Zoran Jankovič, Chief of NATO Liaison Office Skopje, in which we discussed about North Macedonian-NATO cooperation. North Macedonia is set to become the 30th NATO member after the successful ratification of the Prespa Agreement with Greece.

European Western Balkans: This month marks the 70th NATO anniversary. How do you see NATO’s contribution to world peace and are there some events in Northern Macedonia to mark this event?

Zoran Jankovic: In the continuously changing, complex and unpredictable security environment NATO remains the strongest Alliance in history. NATO adapted and continues to strive for the peace, security, and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. We pursue a 360-degrees approach to security and are fulfilling effectively our three core tasks – collective defense, crisis management, and cooperative security. Allies are working together to prevent conflict and preserve peace, and in doing so their unity and solidarity are stronger than ever.

NATO contributes to projecting stability and strengthening security outside its territory through its partnerships. The Western Balkans is a region of strategic importance for the Alliance, which is shown by a long history of cooperation and operational engagement. NATO remains fully committed to the stability and security of the region, including by supporting the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of countries from the region. NATO’s Open Door Policy is one of the invaluable tools in enhancing regional and broader Euro-Atlantic security, stability and prosperity. Successive rounds of enlargement have enhanced our collective security and the security of the entire Euro-Atlantic region. Therefore, the invitation in July 2018 and signing of the NATO Accession Protocol for the Republic of North Macedonia in February 2019, represent important milestones that we want to celebrate during this year’s commemoration of the 70th NATO Anniversary, especially during the first week of April. The NATO Liaison Office is working closely with the local authorities in Skopje and the NATO Contact Point Embassy to organise several public events that will bring NATO closer to the citizens of North Macedonia.

EWB: How would you rate up to the current cooperation between North Macedonia and NATO at the political and at the technical level? How will this cooperation take place in the future?

ZJ: The Republic of North Macedonia has been working with NATO for a number of years. As a partner nation it has shown that it is an important security provider through its contributions and support to NATO’s operations and missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo. Moreover, active participation in NATO’s partnership initiatives enabled North Macedonia to build interoperability with NATO forces, increase its defence capabilities, and build strong and resilient institutions. We also have a well-established political dialogue on security issues not only in the region, but in the Euro-Atlantic area as well. Together, we have worked to implement a range of reforms that benefit all citizens of North Macedonia.

Following the signing of the Accession Protocol in February 2019, North Macedonia is in the process of preparing for full membership in the Alliance. As an invitee, North Macedonia participates in Alliance activities and meetings, including the meeting of Foreign Ministers that is taking place in Washington this week. During this stage, we also work closely with North Macedonia on the necessary reforms to prepare the country for full integration into the Alliance.  This includes reforms in the areas of defence, security, and rule of law.

EWB: Are there plans for the NATO military or civilian events in North Macedonia this year?

ZJ: While NATO is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year and the Republic of North Macedonia is about to become its 30th member, there will be several NATO-related events in the country. During the first week of April there will be several events, such as round table discussions, exhibitions, concerts, essay writing competition “NATO and me” for high school students, and a sports event “Skopje 2019 NATO Run”.

Moreover, our strong political dialogue will continue – both in Brussels and in North Macedonia.  We will also continue to work closely together in preparing the country for membership and integration into NATO.

EWB: Which, according to you, are the greatest security risks and challenges in North Macedonia and the Western Balkans? How NATO membership can influence response to them?

ZJ: NATO remains fully committed to the security and stability of the Western Balkans. Significant progress has been made to make the region more secure for the citizens of the region, including through improved good neighborly relations. The Prespa Agreement is an important example of the importance of dialogue and diplomacy. At the same time, we also face enduring challenges and threats from state and non-state actors, and from terrorist, cyber, and hybrid attacks.

Modern security challenges extend beyond national borders and call for greater cooperation in addressing them. NATO will continue to strive for peace, security, and stability in the whole of the Euro-Atlantic area, and the Alliance will remain the foundation for strong collective defence and the essential transatlantic forum for security consultations and decisions among Allies.  As a NATO member, North Macedonia will join 29 other Allies in discussing and taking decisions on issues that affect our collective security. North Macedonia will have an equal say in NATO’s decisions and will be part of an Alliance of 30 nations who are committed to defending each other and working together to respond to security threats and challenges.

EWB: A few weeks ago, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Russia is trying to interfere in political processes and influence whether the Balkan countries will join NATO. Could you say that this influence is present in North Macedonia?

ZJ: The accession process is a matter of the Alliance and the country itself. Every nation has the right to decide on its own future and to choose its own political and security arrangements. Any outside interference in national democratic processes is unacceptable.

We are seeing disinformation campaigns and efforts to undermine government institutions and domestic political processes. Allies will continue to engage and support North Macedonia during this accession period to prepare the country for membership. NATO is an Alliance of values, and we are determined to protect and defend our indivisible security, our freedom, and our common values, including individual liberty, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.