Macedonia has never been closer to solving its 25-year name row with Greece, but even if it fails Skopje will continue to integrate with Europe, its premier says.
"I believe that we have never had better circumstances to find a complete solution that will last for centuries and will remain forever," Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told AFP in an interview.
The long-running name dispute between Macedonia and EU-member Greece dates back to 1991 when Skopje declared independence following the collapse of communist Yugoslavia.
Athens objects to Macedonia's name because it has its own northern province called Macedonia, and fears it may imply territorial ambitions.
"If the dispute is not solved, the world will not end," Zaev said.
"We will bring Europe here to Skopje (the capital). And we will push an European agenda one way or another."
- Ongoing talks -
Because of the dispute, Macedonia was forced to join the United Nations under the name the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Greek veto threats have also hampered Skopje's bid to become a member of the European Union and the NATO military alliance.
UN mediated talks to settle the row have resumed since Zaev's Social Democrats won elections last year, ousting the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party of Nikola Gruevski after more than ten years in power.
The negotiations have made progress after Macedonia agreed in February to change the name of the capital's Alexander the Great airport to Skopje International Airport, in a goodwill gesture to Greece.
Macedonia had also been accused of appropriating symbols and figures that are historically considered part of Greek culture, such as Alexander the Great.
The motorway linking Macedonia with Greece was also renamed the Friendship Highway.
Zaev said he was "satisfied" that "a huge part of the issues" between Macedonia and Greece had been solved and that he was optimistic about a final deal.
He has previously said an agreement could be reached by the summer. However, the 43-year-old declined to go into details about the ongoing talks, saying "it could destroy the entire process".
- Open doors -
Earlier this week the European Commission recommended opening EU accession talks with Skopje, an EU candidate since 2005, in a development Zaev described as "encouraging".
"This is a message of open doors. That is very important for Macedonia," he said, adding that more than 75 percent of Macedonians are in favour of the country's integration into the EU and NATO.
However, "that does not mean that we should not improve cooperation with other countries, including the Russian Federation," Zaev said.
Russia has openly objected to the aspirations of fellow Slavic countries in the Balkans to join NATO, most recently when Montenegro became a member in mid-2017.
"I want to improve cooperation with Russia," Zaev said.
"(But) the Russian Federation should know that for us there is no alternative to NATO and the European Union. We will remain focused on that path. That is our absolute right, our expectation and how we view the future of this country and the people that live here."