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“North Macedonia has made a clear national decision”

An interview with Slavjanka Petrovska, minister of defence of North Macedonia. Interviewer: Jovan Gjorgovski.

May 4, 2023 - Jovan Gjorgovski Slavjanka Petrovska - Interviews

Minister of Defence of North Macedonia Slavjanka Petrovska together with the Defence Minister of Ukraine Oleksii Reznikov.

JOVAN GJORGOVSKI: You announced that North Macedonia will send 12 MI-24 helicopters, practically all the attack helicopters that the country has, to Ukraine. When do you expect that to happen and was the sending of military equipment also at the request of Ukraine?

SLAVJANKA PETROVSKA: Since the beginning of the unjustified Russian military aggression against independent Ukraine, North Macedonia has made a clear national decision, which is political and military support for Kyiv. And that decision was not made just because we are a member of NATO, but because in conditions when the democratic environment and security are threatened by the criminal behaviour of a state, when international law is violated, and basic human rights are violated, there is no other answer.

So far, we have made eight decisions on donating military equipment and armaments, and all of them were in response to Ukraine’s requests. Of course, we answered positively, based on the previous analysis and observations of the army’s general staff. According to this assessment it was concluded that the equipment and weapons that we own and that Ukraine needs are intended for renewal, i.e. modernisation. As a result, they can be donated without reducing the combat readiness of the Macedonian army.

The transportation has already started, and I hope that very soon the equipment will arrive in Ukraine and of course be put to use. This is not a way in which we want to intensify the war, but this is a way in which we want to help Ukraine to defend and preserve its sovereign and independent territory, to protect its people.

And we will continue to do that as long as Ukraine needs our support and help.

This is the second shipment of this kind to Ukraine after the country sent Sukhoi Su-25 planes. Will additional tanks or armoured vehicles be sent? What will the next aid package contain and are you coordinating a new package with your Ukrainian counterpart Minister Reznikov?

The goal of our donations is to be rational and efficient in support, and that is why, before a decision is made, consultations with the Ukrainian side and allies about what equipment and armaments are needed take place. Of course, we also look into the planning and realisation of transport. We do not want the donation to turn into a release of obsolete weapons that Ukraine does not need. On the contrary, we donated only what was requested.

Before the weapons are delivered, teams from the Ukrainian army check the condition of the equipment and then the formal procedure begins. The requests from the Ukrainian defence ministry are a priority for me and therefore they are implemented with care after a quick but thorough procedure. This will be the case in the future as well. The support will be there until Ukraine is freed and does not face terror.

What does Ukraine need the most right now?

Solidarity, support and help. And Ukraine gets exactly that. Ukraine has the support of the entire democratic world, including NATO members and partners. We are united and determined to help this country, because it has the right to defend itself. By helping Ukraine, we also protect the international order, in which there is no place for unilateral decisions that cause suffering every day. The whole world is witnessing the destruction of civilian infrastructure, the civilian casualties and the suffering of every single Ukrainian man and woman. Only when the world functions on the basis of international principles and rules will we be able to say that we live in an advanced, democratic, modern world where the life and safety of every single person is of the utmost importance.

How do you comment on the statement of the Russian foreign ministry that North Macedonia is making a big mistake by supporting Ukraine?

The biggest mistake here is Russia’s decision to attack a sovereign and independent state. There is no greater mistake than making the decision to kill civilians, especially children.

I regret that the Russian people, against their will, are hostage to the unreasonable policies of their president and his associates, and they are trying to escape from such policies, but look at what the regime is doing to all those who raise their voices against the unjustified war. And it is precisely because of such behaviour that the number of supporters of Ukraine increases and support is strengthened.

The fight in Ukraine is a fight for Ukraine’s internationally recognised sovereignty, but also for our European value system, which is based on respect for the territorial integrity of all states, respect for peace, democracy, and the need to resolve all issues exclusively with mutual respect and open and honest dialogue. With all the decisions made so far, North Macedonia has shown that it always gives priority to diplomacy and conversation and that everything we do is in the spirit of international principles and rules. That is how we will continue because we know that we are on the right side of history.

North Macedonia, meanwhile, is facing hybrid and cyber-attacks. Do you think this is due to the support that the country is giving to Ukraine and what is specifically being done to prevent these attacks?

North Macedonia is not unique in dealing with really frequent hybrid and cyber-attacks. We have all witnessed such issues in our country and in the neighbourhood, and even more widely in Europe. Hybrid threats and cyber-attacks are a serious challenge, as they demonstrate the most modern way of warfare with unconventional means.

They are specific because they aim to paralyse state institutions and prevent the smooth, normal functioning of state institutions and the private sector. The consequences of such attacks are felt by a large number of citizens. An assumption regarding the increasingly frequent hybrid attacks and their goal of disrupting social life is the creation of discontent that will be reflected at the ballot box. That is, they would cause a crisis and a decrease in support among pro-western actors and governments.

Cyber-attacks are usually carried out by criminal motives or are politically motivated. Of course, it is not excluded that this is due to our clear and loud position regarding the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

What we need to do and are doing is strengthening our capabilities to deal with these kinds of threats, as well as building a kind of societal resilience to these threats. Here, above all, I am thinking of disinformation, which is an integral part of hybrid threats. The state as a NATO member country is in full and constant coordination with the Alliance on this topic. The Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges James Appathurai is also visiting North Macedonia, and we are talking to individual allies who can help us deal with this challenge and to develop our capacities.

In fact, these days NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has also confirmed that NATO and its allies are ready to help our fight against disinformation with technical support and stronger cooperation. This is also one of the biggest advantages when you are a NATO member country. You are by no means alone on any topic. You are part of a system that is ready to help you become safer, stronger and more resilient.

And let’s be clear that there were hybrid attacks in the past, and there will be in the future, regardless of whether it will be on a larger or smaller scale. Our focus must be to constantly develop our capabilities and invest primarily in professional staff. We must also build strong infrastructure and continue to create social resilience that will be a common bulwark against these challenges.

Do you expect the strengthening of the Eastern wing of the Alliance with additional military equipment and soldiers? How do you think Finland’s entry into NATO will affect such issues?

The Alliance, primarily through the so-called “Enhanced Field Presence” and “Enhanced Vigilance Activities”, has already strengthened its presence in the countries of NATO’s Eastern Flank. After all, North Macedonia is already an integral part of the multinational NATO forces in Latvia, Bulgaria and Romania. This is so because we are firmly convinced that if we are together we are stronger and that the Alliance is united in the defence of every inch of Allied territory.

On NATO Day, we shared many messages of unity and success for both NATO and Finland, whose flag was also raised in front of the Alliance’s headquarters. Finland has been our extremely close partner and now also an extremely close ally. Finland will strengthen the big NATO family and our common values ​​in the Alliance.

I really hope and expect that we will experience the same sense of pride and success again very soon when we can welcome Sweden into NATO, another country with which we share the same democratic values, the same approach to the international order and the same determination to be together and united in the defence of everything that defines us as nations and as an Alliance – democracy, peace and the rule of law.

Slavjanka Petrovska is a North Мacedonian politician who has been the Minister of Defense of North Macedonia since January 2022.

Jovan Gjorgovski is a journalist based in North Macedonia and an editor with the Kanal 5 television station.


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