I was the victim of a prank by a well-organized structure, which benefits from new tactics, forms, and tools in an attempt to publicly discredit people and countries with Euro-Atlantic aspirations. I will not resign, and there is neither any fault in my team. I was tricked by frauds, but I represented the interests of the country. The part with the alleged bribe for the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has been seriously intervened with and taken out of the context. If any of the countries or politicians mentioned in the conversations asks, I am ready to apologize. I will be more careful in the future.
These are some of the points from the one-hour press conference of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who caught himself in a crossfire of questions by reporters who demanded answers about the big gaffe released on social media, in which the prime minister talks to Russian comedians Vladimir Kuzencov and Alexei Stolarov on the phone, thinking that the other side of the line are former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. In the three, hours-long conversations in English, one can hear “Poroshenko” asking Zaev to call him Petar the Macedonian because Ukrainian scientists have discovered a gene of Alexander the Great, and also boasting that he had a chocolate factory that he wanted to export to Macedonia, to which Prime Minister Zaev promised to help personally. “Poroshenko” advised Zaev that he can force autocephaly for the MOC in the same way as the Ukrainian: with 100,000 euros for Bartholomew, after which the President of the Government pointed out that “they will arrange that in cash.”
“This conversation about the autocephalous status of the Macedonian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian experience was taken out of context. I’m an Orthodox believer, the autocephaly of the Macedonian church is an open issue and I will continue to help through diplomacy and dialogue to find a solution to that issue”, said Prime Minister Zaev.
During these conversations, he gives out the telephone numbers of Wess Mitchell (a former US official) and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, as for Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic he says that he is under Russian influence. He says that is against the idea of exchanging territories between Kosovo and Serbia, because he thinks it will open the “Pandora’s box” in the Balkans.
“I did not cause any harm, the phone numbers are available to everyone, and if a country or a politician feels insulted, I’ll apologize. No harm has been caused to the country’s interest, I did not reveal state secrets or security sensitive information, I was deceived because I’m open and available to all, but I do not mean to close off now. Certainly, in the future, the protocols for secure communications will be strengthened, and the government, in cooperation with NATO partners, will develop a plan to fight such actions for misinformation and manipulation. I do not think that this is an order from someone in the country because the fraudsters are world-famous and their target are countries that are NATO aspirants, and the country is on the threshold of becoming a full member of the Alliance. This is one of those attempts to directly harm our strategic interests to finish the process of our NATO membership. These are well-organized structures for spreading influences in the interest of other parties,” Zaev stressed.
The North Macedonian Prime Minister is in the company of French President Emmanuel Macron, former London Mayor Boris Johnson, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, musician Elton John etc., who were also victims of the Russian prank duo.
However, former Foreign Minister Antonio Miloshoski believes that Zaev violated the diplomatic protocols for interstate communication, and hence the secrecy of the state’s strictly confidential information, he violated the reputation of the country, and, moreover, undermined the trust of other countries in Macedonia (the USA, Germany, Greece, Russia) by revealing confidential conversations and their positions on sensitive regional and international issues.
“Zaev must have known that a conversation between two statesmen is negotiated officially through ambassadors in both countries, it is confirmed through diplomatic advisers in both cabinets, and then archived with the foreign minister. If Zaev did not know this as prime minister, then before resigning, Minister Nikola Dimitrov and adviser Dane Taleski should be also dismissed, whose jobs are to introduce the prime minister with these diplomatic rules. Zaev’s first telephone conversation with the fake Poroshenko occurred in August, 2018. Although Prime Minister Zaev conducted the fake conversation in a manner contrary to the diplomatic protocol for interstate communication, after that he had to inform the Minister of Foreign Affairs about the content of the conversation orally or in writing, and Adviser Talevski was supposed to prepare a written note on the topics from the conversation. Depending on the topics, the written note could be classified as a state secret or strictly confidential. Then Dimitrov ‘s job is to inform the head of state, the country’s ambassador to the embassy in Kiev, the directors of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of European and non-European countries, and, according to his estimation, our top diplomats in Moscow, Berlin, Athens and Washington. If he acted like this, it would have been easy to determine that it was a prank or perhaps a spy hoax, and the second and third conversations would not have happened at all,” Miloshoski explains.
Zaev responded that he was only human, and that he had a dynamic agenda and frequent phone calls, which he usually takes from his office on a landline when he is at work, or through the WhatsApp application. His advisers make reports on all his conversations, and these conversations, he said, were shared with the public. The real Poroshenko and Stoltenberg are not informed about the fraud, and there is no reaction from any other party. The conversations were published yesterday in all leading media in Russia.
“The Embassy does not comment on the activities of private individuals, especially on jokes of comedians,” said the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Skopje.
Pivovarov: No communication is safe
Former counter-intelligence expert Vladimir Pivovarov says that with today’s advancement of technology, it is absolutely impossible to have a 100 percent secure communication at all times.
“Things were simpler in Communism: Presidents had two phones, a red and a black one, and it was clear who could call one, and who the other, with the services checking five times who called. These are different times, no modern technological communication ever 100 percent safe. No matter how strong are the devices, there is always room for games. You can see that there are similar examples in Germany, America or Great Britain. In these dynamic times, prime ministers have 150, 200 or more telephone calls during the day, it’s impossible for the services to control all of them. But it will obviously that this pace needs to slow down, the flow of information might be reduced, but it will be easier to control,” said Pivovarov.