Russia’s “information campaigns in the Balkans” are part of its “strategy to create a perception of Russia as a great power and powerful ally.”
There, is, however “little substance behind it in investments or donations to the nations involved,” writes the Washington Post.
The piece published under the headline “Russia has a years-long plot to influence Balkan politics. The U.S. can learn a lot from it” was penned by Jaroslaw Wisniewski, with translated excerpts carried by the Bosnia-Herzegovina based website klix.ba.
The article cites an earlier Washington Post report quoting intelligence and congressional officials as saying that “U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies were investigating what they see as a broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in U.S. political institutions.”
But, continued the article, “information campaigns are nothing new for Russia, which has been running them in the Balkans at least for the past eight years, since Kosovo’s separation from Serbia and declaration of independence.” It goes on to recommend “what the United States can learn from Russia’s low-cost, high-yield communications approach there.”
According to the Washington Post, the disintegration of Yugoslavia is seen my “many in Russia” as “an example of humiliation, where the West ignored Moscow’s views,” while “Putin has never shaken off his dismay at how Russia lost influence in Kosovo as it became autonomous, if not recognized as an independent state.”
He then “used that territory’s upheaval and independence as his justification for asserting Russia’s power by fighting in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008 and in Crimea in 2014.”
Moreover, “Russians feel strongly they must be present in the Balkans to be a great power” and for several reasons, including because “so many Russians feel strongly that Slavs should unite across boundaries, a sentiment called ‘pan-Slavism’ claiming that there is a ‘special relationship’ between Russia and the Slavic nations of the Balkans.”
According to the article, “the main tools of Russia’s information policy are RT and Sputnik,” whole “the main message is straightforward: there’s a special relationship between Russia and the Slavic/Orthodox communities in the Balkans.”
“Hosts and authors regularly refer to the shared Slav history and culture, emphasizing the long and (in this telling) honorable involvement of the Russian Empire in this part of the world,” while at the same time “the outlets also use anti-establishment and anti-Western rhetoric, referring particularly to events or ideas that resonate among Serbs, such as the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia.”
They also “refer to conspiracy theories about an ongoing threat from the West,” the article noted, quoting “a suggestion that Madeleine Albright, who was the U.S. secretary of state when NATO bombed Yugoslavia in 1999, has a ‘pathological hatred of Slavs’,” as one such conspiracy theory.
Furthermore, Russia has vetoed a resolution in Srebrenica in the UN Security Council, and helped prevent the attempts to make Kosovo a member of UNESCO.
“At the same time the West is portrayed as culturally different and unlike Moscow unable to understand Slavic exceptionality,” said the article.
A number of Balkan media are also seen as “amplifying Russia’s chosen narrative.” The article quotes the Belgrade-Based Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies NGO as “identifying 109 organizations promoting different aspects of Serbia-Russian relations, including Russian foundations and pro-Russian members of parliament.”
The article concedes that “of course, emphasizing Slavic brotherhood by itself is not misinformation” – but adds that “what Russia is trying to do is instill a sense that the two countries have the relationship of older and younger brothers” as the country is “trying to sell an image of Moscow listening to and respecting as equals to the Slavic governments in Belgrade, Serbia; Skopje, Macedonia; and Banja Luka, of Republika Srpska (Serb Republic) in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
According to this, “far more” Serbian citizens say they would prefer to be allied with Russia than join the European Union, even though “Russian strategic communications do not offer a coherent alternative to the European Union.”
Russia is also “openly discouraging Balkan states from joining NATO, encouraging close military cooperation with Moscow-backed Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).”
“This anti-NATO campaign may have significant impact on the European Union (EUFOR) and NATO (KFOR) peacekeeping missions in the Western Balkans in the short term,” the Washington Post article said.
Source: Washington post