On January 31, 2014, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Macedonia will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. How do you assess the current level of bilateral cooperation between the two countries? In which direction should we expect its further development?
- To my great pleasure, the bilateral cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Macedonia is steadily growing, although my view is that things can always be better. The Republic of Macedonia, in the past 20 years, has been in continuity paying particular importance to building relationships and developing cooperation with the Russian Federation. After assuming the office of President in 2009, I became personally and actively involved in further promoting relations and, moreover, in advancing cooperation. I am glad that over the past 5 years, with mutual efforts, we have achieved significant results. The Agreement for inclusion of the Republic of Macedonia in the "South Stream" is of great interest, since it is expected to provide the country's energy stability in the coming decades. In this regard, the partnership with the Russian Federation is crucial for us, and I have personally met several times the management of Gazprom, namely Mr. Alexey Miller, and expressed absolute political support for implementation of this project and inclusion of the Republic of Macedonia in it. Following the energy sector example, I sincerely hope and expect that, in the coming period, we will be able to expand our cooperation in other areas, by implementing specific projects. There are already several successful Russian investments In Macedonia, such as Lukoil, Sintez Group, Solvay, Grishko, Protek, which will hopefully be an incentive for other Russian companies to find economic interest in Macedonia. The visa regime facilitation greatly helped in promoting cooperation. At political level, parallel with the intensification of the economic cooperation, in the past few years, there has been constant expansion of interstate contacts and dynamic political dialogue at all levels. To my great satisfaction, in the coming days, I will have the opportunity to visit the Russian Federation again. All this is a result of mutual understanding and mutual respect that is consistent with the long historical, spiritual and cultural traditions of our peoples, as well as the common imperative for strengthened economic interests. The Russian Federation plays, undoubtedly, a very important role on the international stage, whereas Russia's economy emerges as one of the most powerful in Europe and is important trade partner of our country, the Russian Federation has a principled position regarding the use of the constitutional name of the Republic of Macedonia. Thus, further promotion of friendly relations with the Russian Federation remains a special interest of Macedonia and, I am confident, in the future, with joint efforts, we will seize all the opportunities for more intensive cooperation, especially the economic.
In your recent annual address in the Parliament, you mentioned the promotion of friendly relations with the Russian Federation as a foreign policy priority in your mandate as President of the Republic. What is your approach to building the Russian- Macedonian cooperation?
- My approach is, to the greatest extent, open and active within the capabilities and in accordance with the state interests. I have already mentioned that the Republic of Macedonia and the Russian Federation have traditionally friendly relations, permanent political dialogue adorn by openness and mutual respect, simply put, there are excellent grounds for development of fruitful cooperation. Our duty and responsibility is to create all the necessary conditions to enable such cooperation and achieve concrete results. Therefore, frequent meetings and direct contacts are of paramount importance. Such meetings, among the other things, serve to exchange views and information exactly on the potentials for cooperation, on the economic conditions in our countries, on the investment opportunities, on the possibilities for improvement of the contractual-legal framework for the purpose of creating conditions for undisturbed cooperation between the business communities of both countries. Hence, I am sure that the energy and trade and economic ties between the two countries are one of the most important components in our bilateral relations. What is also particularly important, the political leadership and the business communities in both countries to fully focus on the development of these relations.
2013 was marked with a significant intensification of political contacts in the Russian-Macedonian relations at various levels, with progress in significant matters of trade - economic, investment, energy and cultural cooperation. What motivates this dynamic? Can we expect bilateral relations to be additionally boosted this year?
- Bilateral relations are successful if constantly updated and if cooperation continuously deepens and gets different forms and scopes. Relations between states need content, which is provided by cooperation in all spheres of mutual interest. It, certainly, requires dynamic and intense political dialogue. Thus, both sides need to insist on more frequent meetings and contacts at various levels. Only then will the path of cooperation be traced. Talks result in initiatives, initiatives result in contracts, and, most importantly, contracts need to be translated into concrete and common interest projects. The list of Russian companies that have recognized Macedonia as a favorable country for investment, as well as the mutually implemented and planned projects, are proof that the Macedonian-Russian cooperation in the area of investment has, indeed, a realistic perspective. I expect in the coming period growing interest in Russian companies' investment. On the other hand, despite the Macedonian wine, I expect the agricultural products from Macedonia to gradually conquer the Russian market and have more success stories and examples. As already mentioned, soon, I am paying a working visit to the Russian Federation. I hope to have constructive meetings and, in the spirit of cooperation and understanding, find new opportunities to deepen cooperation. I am particularly delighted to have the opportunity to revisit the Moscow State University Lomonosov, where, at the University's invitation, I will deliver a lecture. This renowned and prestigious university has a long-standing cooperation with the "St. Cyril and Methodius" University, which is an example of content collaboration, in this case in the field of education and science. The cooperation in the sphere of culture, I feel free to say, is good, but I will reiterate, we can always do better, not only in these but in all areas of mutual interest, too. It will be my third visit to the Russian Federation. So far, I have had two meetings with former President Medvedev, and in various places and on various occasions, I have met Mr. Sergey Ivanov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Lavrov, Patriarch Cyril and numerous representatives of the Russian Federation in various spheres of social life.
The start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi is set on February 7. As we know, you already had the opportunity to visit the southern capital of Russia, so, do you plan to visit Sochi again, this time to participate in the festivities on the occasion of the opening of the 2014 Olympics?
- Last year I attended the Sixth International Peace and Sport Forum in Sochi, where I was awarded a special recognition for the advancement and promotion of peace through sport by this organization. During the visit, I had the opportunity to meet the Minister of Sports, Mr. Vitali Mutko, and visit the Olympic city which was under construction at that time. What I saw was really impressive and I have no doubt that now, after all that work and energy invested, Sochi and the Olympic city look flawless and fully prepared and organized to the maximum extend for the start of the Winter Olympics. Gladly, I accepted the invitation to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Games in Sochi and visit Moscow immediately afterwards. I am looking forward to meeting President Putin in Sochi, who has an open invitation to visit the Republic of Macedonia. The goal is to sustain this momentum at the highest possible level in both directions.
Macedonia and Russia have rich cultural and spiritual traditions. What, in your opinion, should be done to preserve and further strengthen closeness between our two peoples?
- I believe the key to bringing Macedonian and Russian people closer is, and must be, cooperation between the two countries. The recipe is collaboration, progressive ideas and global trends monitoring. For this cooperation to be successful, we need to ensure full freedom of movement. Here I also think of exchange of information, goods, human potential, educational personnel. So, as the Russian citizens freely travel to Macedonia, I truly expect that the Russian Federation will soon apply facilitated visa regime for the Macedonian citizens. Freedom of movement is a prerequisite, not only in tourism development term, but also in terms of development of scientific-educational, technical and, above all, economic cooperation. My opinion is that, first and foremost, political leaders should be role models with their actions, which will be followed, as positive examples, by their nations, i.e. by other stakeholders in the society. Speaking of our two countries, familiarity of language, orthodoxy, historical roots, have great influence and are an important prerequisite and advantage in the establishment and existence of a strong link between the Macedonian and Russian peoples. Just to remind, in 22 cities in Macedonia, there are associations that nurture the Russian language, culture and tradition, and what is commendable is that there is a huge number of Macedonian citizens, members of these associations, who are not Russians. Moreover, I will mention here the Association of Macedonian-Russian Friendship, the Macedonian-Russian Chamber of Commerce, and soon, based on the signed agreement, I expect cultural and information centers in Skopje and Moscow to be open, which should contribute to an even greater cultural rapprochement between the two countries.