Zoran Zaev, Clown-Prince of Telecommunications, Can’t Live Down Russian Pranking Episode
By Sasha Uzunov
Not a week has passed since Macedonia PM Zoran Zaev became the latest victim of two nefarious Russian phone pranksters, and the farce is only compounding on itself- making Zaev, and by extension ‘North’ Macedonia the laughingstock of the diplomatic world. The government is stumbling to contain the damage as Zaev continues to contradict himself while being forced to apologise to leaders around the region he had gossiped about over the ‘hot’ line.
The conversations, which were posted on Youtube, start out with an explanatory text in English and Russian. The rest of the video consists entirely of Zaev speaking in English with subtitles in Russian.
The audio comprises almost an hour of cringe-inducing admissions of Zaev’s personal opinions on burning international issues, plus a faint whiff of Zaev considering corrupt practices- not to mention him giving out the private phone numbers of US diplomat A. Wess Mitchell.
Quite predictably, the opposition VMRO-DPMNE has enjoyed having a go at Zaev all week as more details emerge of the premier was willingly duped into thinking he was talking with NATO head honcho and former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko by infamous impersonators ‘Leksus’ and Vovan,’ who have also pranked the likes of Macron, Boris Johnson and others.
A WESTERN PUPPET, PAR EXCELLENCE
The phrase ‘Western puppet’ is arguably overused, but the case of Zoran Zaev’s conversations with the faux Poroshenko and Stoltenberg reveal that Zaev has passed his course in this regard with flying colours. When he was just an opposition figurehead cursing the Gruevski government, the man could barely put a coherent sentence together. But just listen to him now!
After some special training under the tutelage of ex-US Embassy hand David Stephenson and especially the former gunslinging American ambassador, Jess ‘Wild West’ Baily, Zaev seems to sound like a credible diplomat. As the tapes reveal, Zaev’s actually heard of Abkhazia – and might even be able to find it on the map – and can also express concern over complicated international issues, like relations between Serbia and Kosovo, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, and of course, the ‘Russian threat’ lurking around every corner.
Ironically, it’s this unusual mastery of detail that’s gotten Zaev into hot water all week. After blaming ‘foreign networks hostile to NATO’ as being behind the pranking in his Monday press conference, and accusing former President Ivanov of being Pro-Russian, Zaev suddenly made an about-face in the most ironic of places: a new Lukoil patrol station. He appeared together with Russian ambassador Sergey Bazdnikin and tried to distance himself from his antI-Russian rhetoric. As Sloboden Pecat reported, Zaev reassured the public that the pranksters did not represent the Russian Federation, but were merely acting on their own. The Russian Ambassador took mercy on Zaev and agreed that bilateral relationship will continue normally. link here
ZOKI AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
As is widely known, former Ukrainian president Poroshenko made his fortune before politics in the chocolates industry. At one point in the conversation the fake Poroshenko offers to ‘sweeten the deal’ by hinting that he might be willing to invest in a new chocolate factory in Macedonia, to which Zaev agrees, whether or not this would be a realistic investment.
Even more bizarrely, the phony Ukrainian also disclosed to Zaev that his people had a bit of ancient Macededonian blood in them, putting the question of ‘Macedonian kinship’ between Ukraine and Macedonia back to the days of Aleksandar the Great, in what has to be a first.
Even the normally pro-Zaev Telma TV couldn’t help but note the topic, with the title of its lead article being “Zaev with the Fake Poroshenko the Macedonian talked about chocolates and politics” - see link
Pro-opposition Kurir went further with the theme of Zaev’s desire to be the middleman in the deal, saying that “Russian comedians promising Zaev business with chocolates, and he offers his personal help.” -see link
INSERT LINK One can only imagine the excitement in Zaev’s cabinet when he reported back that the Ukrainian oligarch was offering Zoki a chocolate factory-a real Macedonia miracle. The only strange thing is how the news of this never made it to a Government press conference on foreign investment.
‘IN CASH… NORMALLY’
Zoran Zaev has the dubious distinction of being the only Macedonian premier to have been pardoned by two different presidents (SDSM’s Branko Crvenkovski, over a corruption charge during the former VMRO-DPMNE government’s rule, and Gjorge Ivanov, during his mass pardons of politicians in April 2016 preceding the ‘Colourful Revolution’). Zaev has consistently been accused, rightly or wrongly, of corruption involving his family’s extensive business holdings in his native Strumica region.
So it is particularly cringe-inducing to hear Zaev’s reaction to the fake Ukrainian president’s hint that he can get Zaev a ‘discount’ on a bribe to the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul. ‘Poroshenko’ intimates that he had to pay the patriarch 150,000 euros to get the freshly-minted ‘Ukrainian Orthodox Church’ recognised by the symbolic leader of the world’s Orthodox faithful- a move that infuriated the Russian church.
In the taped conversation, the prankster repeatedly states that he can use his own personal connection with Bartholomew to get ‘autocephaly’ for the Macedonian Orthodox Church, to which Zaev readily agrees. Worse, the prankster president of Ukraine tells Zaev directly that this will require a bribe for the patriarch… and particularly, in cash.
To which Zaev unflinchingly replies: “in cash… normally.” This kind of answers only strengthens the case for those who suspect Zaev of having corrupt tendencies.
THE OPPOSITION ATTACKS
These kinds of shocking statements gave the opposition VMRO-DPMNE plenty of material to attack Zaev with. According to opserver.mk’s quotation from a party spokesman, “Zoran Zaev should immediately resign. With the last international scandal Zoran Zaev shamed Macedonia. The justification for the scandalous disclosure of state secrets and the acceptance to pay a bribe to the patriarch shows how inexplicable and criminal Zaev and the team around him are.” see link
Nevertheless, since Monday Zaev has stubbornly refused all calls to resign, and continuous to attack all of his critics for his own poor decision. But the situation has only gotten worse as VMRO-DPMNE mouthpiece Republika has recently interviewed the pransters, who expressed bewilderment at Zaev’s lack of common sense. see link
Th news outlet also published phone images showing that, in additont the three released phone conversations, Zoran Zaev also sent several photos of himself with world leaders to the comedians. He apparently used the common WhatsApp phone app rather than any secure lines that normal heads of state would use. Zaev’s CIA handlers obviously failed to finish his training course; the irony is especially thick sinze it was Zaev himself who rocketed to power after using wiretapped ‘bombs’ of dubious veracity to overthrow the Gruevski government. As they say… live by the bomb, die by the bomb! see link
A FAILURE OF INTELLIGENCE- AND INTELLIGENCE
Zaev’s multiple talks and unsolicited messages with the supposed ‘Poroshenko and Stoltenberg’ indicate a staggering failure of intelligence- both basic critical thinking on his own part, and failure of the security system and protocol staff around him. We are talking here about the most important leader in the country, a fellow who could hardly be considered a political neophyte, making himself vulnerable to a calculated prank- you can almost hear the cursing up on Kale now!
At his press conference on Monday, after the release of the Youtube conversations spread like wildfire around the internet, Zaev listed the names of many of the other world leaders who had been pranked, like Macron and Boris Johnson, stating this put him in ‘good company.’ Yet these men had the presence of mind, and probably the protocol staff, to suss out a prank within minutes of receiving the call, and thus the pranksters failed to get much out of them.
Not so with Zaev. He turned out to be a gold mine of information. Listening to the audio, one gets the feeling that the Russians were even surprised by Zaev’s forthcoming attitude and willingness to be led on as they floated business propositions and asked about his political opinions. The overwhelming response of ordinary citizens on comment sections on Youtube, Twitter and Facebook reveal an enormous sense of humiliation and disbelief. Whether or not they were supporters of Zaev’s SDSM government, the people are angered and dismayed. It wasn’t enough to throw away the Macedonian name and identity at Prespa- now, with his embarrassing lack of critical thinking and poor security, Zaev made all Macedonians look like fools.
A FINAL NOTE- WHO WINS FROM ZAEV’S GAFFES?
So, who comes out of the ‘Poroshenko and Stoltenberg Hour’ feeling not the worse for the wear? TEAM UZUNOV ranks its top five persons who stand to see their stock improve from the debacle.
Hashim Thaci-the Kosovo president, who has been a controversial figure in his own country regarding alleged covert negotiations with Serbia’s Aleksandar Vucic, made a spirited response and graciously accepted Zaev’s apology. Media also noted that, unlike the dimwitted Zaev, Thaci had not been taken in by the pranksters’ previous attempt to fool him in a different phone call.
‘Slick Nick’ Dimitrov-Macedonia’s controversial foreign minister, who has stubbornly refused to denounce Albanian Neo-Nazism in Macedonia and controversially claims that he will be ‘on the right side of history’ for signing away Macedonia’s name and identity with the Prespa Agreement, can now sleep easier knowing that he can blame any diplomatic failures on his boss.
Radmila Sekerinska-the ruthless career politician who prefers to wield power behind the scenes in SDSM while being the West’s most trusted local puppet will surely see her stock rise as a result of Zaev’s idiocy. Who knows? In the SDSM’s current race to the bottom, she might even become prime minister by appointment, since she is too polarising to ever win at the ballot box.
Kyriakos Mitsitakis-Greece’s new prime minister, whose New Democracy was elected to replace Zaev’s pal Alexis Tsipras and his left-wing Syriza government just a day before Macedonians were shocked by the Zaev conversations, has got to be loving Zaev’s own-goal, as it paints Zaev and Tsipras in a conspiratorial light negative for Greek interests.
Anyone else vying for the Nobel Peace Prize-Indeed, while the aforementioned Greek and Macedonian leaders have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the name issue dispute with the Prespa Agreement, the Nordic nominating committee will have to be thinking twice about Zaev’s fitness for the prize.
Who could forget Zaev's Holocaust gaffe earlier this year? - see link here
CROOKS AND RACISTS?
To add to the craziness of Macedonia PM Zaev being caught by Russian prank calls was his own earlier Holocaust gaffe, without provocation from outside forces.
To top that off, Zaev's SDSM Party General Secretary Dragi Rashkovski recent racist attack on Roma (Gypsies) and Italians now throws new light on Zaev's Holocaust gaffe. Does Zaev hate Jews?
Rashkovski was allegedly caught trying to shakedown a foreign company for a kickback in doing "business" with the Macedonian government. He was recorded as making racist comments - see link here
If the allegations of corruption are true, then the Zaev government is a seething hotbed of crooks, racists, haters, greedy malcontents supported by the West.
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