The small Balkan country of North Macedonia is usually not a focus of interest in the foreign information space. Yet in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this is a country that has provided a noteworthy part of its military arsenal to the Ukrainian army. A couple of factors had a significant impact, mostly it was old equipment that was already a nuisance, and the security guarantees of NATO membership. However, two years on from a full-blown Russian invasion and deteriorating global security, North Macedonia faces the challenge of rearmament, which it has already partially initiated with Western partners.

 North Macedonian assistance to Ukraine

North Macedonia provided Ukraine with a large amount of heavy equipment and air force for its proportions and capabilities. Of the heavy equipment, according to the available information, North Macedonia delivered all 31 T-72A tanks. The number of units delivered has not been independently verified, but existing documentation and statements by officials of both countries confirm at least partial delivery. In addition, according to the claims, four subsonic close air support jets of soviet origin Su-25s and twelve attack helicopters of soviet origin Mil Mi-24V/Ks were delivered to Ukraine. In this case, the delivery of the four jets is verified by open source methods, where satellite imagery proves the disappearance of the machines from the airbase. On the other hand, in the case of the helicopters, there is no independent verification through images or videos of the delivery of these machines. In addition to deliveries of heavy equipment, North Macedonia has sent larger quantities of various kinds of ammunition, spare parts, small arms, anti-tank weaponry, air-to-air missiles and pieces of artillery to Ukraine. Further information is not publicly available for security reasons.

North Macedonia has also provided training to an unspecified number of Ukrainian soldiers. This information was confirmed by the North Macedonian Minister of Defense in November 2023. According to her claims, it was the first batch of soldiers, with more to follow in 2024. The training took place in facilities belonging to North Macedonia’s army.

The process of rearmament

North Macedonia aims to keep the budget for the military above 2% of GDP in 2024. This level is considered to be the baseline that each NATO member should give from its budget to the military at a minimum. The trend shows that Skopje is increasing its budget and is likely to manage this target. Staying above two percent for the long term will help this small country modernize its military sufficiently. In 2024, Skopje is expected to spend 2.05% of its GDP on defence, which amounts to around €327 million.

In late 2023, North Macedonia signed a contract with a Czech company for the modernization, service and spare parts for Soviet-built Mi-8/17 transport helicopters, Bell 206 helicopters and Zlin 242L aircraft. In March 2024, North Macedonia signed a procurement contract with the Italian company Leonardo, to purchase four AgustaWestland AW149 multirole helicopters and four AW169M helicopters, worth €250 million. The delivery is expected between 2026 and 2028. Currently, Skopje has no plans to buy new jets.

North Macedonia purchased three batteries (each battery consists of six howitzers) of 105mm air transportable light towed howitzer “Boran” from Turkey in early 2023. Skopje should receive 18 Borans by the end of 2025.

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, in 2021, the US State Department approved the possibility of selling $210 million worth of Stryker vehicles to North Macedonia. The delivery was to include 54 vehicles, including M1126 Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICV), M1130 Command Vehicles (CV), and M1129 Mortar Carrier Vehicles (MCV). Nonetheless, this deal was not concluded in 2021. According to the defence minister, Skopje also expects deliveries of Stryker vehicles in 2024, but it is not known whether this will be the original number of 54 vehicles or fewer. Both Washington and Skopje have not released details on the signed deal.

Skopje has already started with purchases of American-made JLTV Oshkosh light armoured vehicles in 2019. The first 32 vehicles have been delivered by the end of 2023. In March 2024, both Skopje and Washington confirmed the purchase of an additional 25 vehicles worth $111 million. The new batch should include 18 M1278A1/A2 JLTV Heavy Gun Carriers and seven M1280A1/A2 JLTV General Purpose vehicles. In total, North Macedonia is expecting a delivery of 96 JLTV Oshkosh, consisting of 66 M1278A1/A2 JLTV Heavy Gun Carriers, 24 M1280A1/A2 JLTV General Purpose vehicles, and six M1281A1/A2 JLTV Close Combat Weapons Carriers. However, according to the North Macedonian defence minister, the Balkan country expects delivery of only 6 vehicles in 2024.

According to publicly known information, North Macedonia does not plan to purchase tanks, self-propelled howitzers or other logistical and engineering equipment. Only the supply of French air defence equipment is planned, the details of which are not yet known to the public.

The ongoing rearmament of the North Macedonian army, according to the country’s officials, corresponds to the expected tasks and contribution to the common defence alliance in NATO. For this reason, it can be expected that certain types of equipment, such as tanks, will no longer be purchased and used by Skopje. On the other hand, purchases of current equipment will prepare the military for the 21st century, and it will be able to respond adequately to the threats and needs that the coming years will bring.

Author: Richard Straka

Photo Source: