Faced with the repression of its own influence in the Balkans which along with the economic weakness is largely attributed to the active participation of a large number of paramedia sponsored by Western foundations and influential centers, Russia developed an extensive network of paramedia structures and organizations which advocate for Moscow's foreign policy interests in the region of Western Balkans. Decades-long convincing that the Soviet bloc lost the Cold War against the West, primarily thanks to the more powerful propaganda of Western countries and their undisputed dominance in multiple areas of social life (so-called “soft power” techniques), Russian political establishment entered the new power game equipped with an arsenal of hybrid war weaponry, mostly relying on paramedia structures.
Under the new circumstances after March 2014 and the occupation and annexation of the Crimea, Russia could not leave Balkans as one of its few remaining areas outside the borders of the former USSR where it still enjoys a certain level of influence. Wide implementation of this new strategy was significantly strengthened by major technological changes that have occurred in the last 15 years, characterized by the widespread use of Internet and social networks, as main means of communication and information-sharing, making them a relatively inexpensive and effective soft-power tool.
Despite the indisputable influence in Serbia and the Serbian public’s affection towards Russia, the Kremlin decided it was not a sufficient guarantee for the long-term Russian presence in the Western Balkans.
Therefore, as of March 2014, it initiated a broad campaign of pro-Russian media organizations, political parties, interest groups, sites and online communities. While financing of organizations and the media supported by Western foundations is mostly transparent and political interests are framed in the system of democratic values, financing of pro-Russian organizations and media is entirely dubious, while political interests and objectives are bold and open. Thanks to these circumstances and the undeniable affection of Serbian public towards them, their operations and activities are easily detectable.
Thus, in just a few years time, a counterweight to pro-Western paramedia structures was created, with all the features of the Russian understanding of politics, media, limits and rules. Russia opposed the subtle penetration and influence of economically powerful Western foundations and corporations, through intelligence and media apparatus that emerged from the hard-core school of the KGB during the Cold War. The brutality and unscrupulousness of this target-oriented system could be seen in October 2016 in the case of Montenegro and the planning and execution of an attempt of terrorist act and a coup in Podgorica. Although it is a matter of personal judgment which paramedia structures pose a greater threat to the legitimate interests of the Balkan states, the fact remains that Western Balkans is occupied by both Western and Eastern paramedia structures.
Desirable social context: Illusions about the alignment of interests between Serbia and Russia
Despite the generally accepted belief of the large majority of Serbian public opnion about the existence of ‘special ties and relations with Russia throughout history’, the relations between the two countries have not always been harmonious, and their interests even less. Although during the war years of 19th and 20th century, Russia sided with Serbia on several occasions because of their own interest in the Balkans, it has usually left its ally Serbia, impoverished and powerless. One of the most difficult episodes in the two countries’ mutual relations, which reached even the brink of a war, was the Informbiro Resolution from 1948 that marked the political and ideological disagreement between Josip Broz Tito and Joseph Stalin and the breach between communist leaderships of Yugoslavia and the USSR.
After Stalin's death in 1953, relations began to improve, only to reach a downfall again after the end of the Cold War. This was due to the open political and media propaganda sent from Belgrade to the rebels in Moscow during the coup attempt in 1990, and also three years later during the clash between the Russian President Boris Yeltsin and the reckless Russian Duma in October 1993. Because of Slobodan Milosevic’s behavior, the official Moscow noticeably distanced itself in the 90’s from the authorities in Belgrade, and Russia supported all the sanctions imposed on Serbia by the UN during this period.
Despite the clear distance towards Milosevic's excesses during the nineties, Boris Yeltsin played an important role in resolving the situation and stopping the air-strikes on Serbia in the spring of 1999. At the very end of the bombing, the Russian military contingent from the mission of IFOR in Bosnia, with the help of Serbian forces, briefly took the control over Slatina airport near Pristina, which was a key strategic military facility in Kosovo.
Yeltsin's Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov would then play a key role during the negotiations on the peaceful handover of power by Milosevic after the events of 5 October 2000 in Belgrade. With the arrival of pro-European political forces to power in Serbia, Russia, preoccupied with its own problems, lost interest in the Balkans for a while. That this part of the world slid from the top of the priority list of official Moscow was obvious through the absence of direct Russian investments (with the exception of the privatization of the energy sector that Russia took interest in only to preserve the monopoly position in the regional market) but also through the political decisions of the Kremlin, like the one on the withdrawal of the Russian contingent from KFOR in Kosovo. Although this decision was explained with the ‘unsatisfactory treatment of Russian troops by KFOR command and the lack of financial resources’, it still showed a fundamental lack of strategic interests of Moscow in the Western Balkans.
Perhaps the episode with the Russian convoy in KFOR most clearly speaks about the disappearance of strategic interests, or more accurately, strategic inability of Russia to realize its interests in the Balkans.
Just a day after the first visit of a Russian president to Serbia, which occurred on June 16th, 2001, when Vladimir Putin arrived for an official visit to Belgrade, the head of the Russian Federation visited the Russian peacekeeping forces in Pristina and gave a speech in which he stressed the need to strengthen Russian military presence in the "strategically important region of Southeast Europe, in order to strengthen the authority of Russia in the Balkans and in the international arena."
Just two years later, on the same date, 17th June 2003, the Russian peacekeepers from KFOR began their withdrawal from Kosovo. While some conservative circles in Moscow and Belgrade rated this as a strategic mistake and a betrayal, a more realistic view of things reveals that the Kremlin's move was made for various reasons which served Russia's national interests at the time.
"We withdrew our military contingent. In the situation in which our contigent has no authority or power of decision-making, its presence is useless and meaningless. Its presence only serves as a cover for a change in the situation in Kosovo in the direction that we think is wrong. I think that the presence of our contingent can not help prevent the outbreak of violence which we have witnessed recently; and we would be held responsible for it. I think this is unacceptable for Russia," said Vladimir Putin after the March 2004 pogrom. [Num]
The fact was, however, that the Balkans in the early 20th century could not possibly fall into the priority areas of the Kremlin. Russia at the time, as well as the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, was facing the process of solving its accumulated internal problems, and the Balkans, together with Kosovo where Moscow has been repeatedly humiliated by the West, was placed very low on the scale of its priorities. In addition to addressing its internal problems, Russia was working on the reconstruction and strengthening of influence in the "neighboring abroad", given that the strategic importance of these countries was of paramount significant for Putin, far more than the Balkans. In this situation, the withdrawal was a logical move.
However, no matter how rational the withdrawal of the Russian contingent from KFOR seemed, or aligned with Russian interests, the fact remains that today KFOR is made up of soldiers from countries whose interests in the Balkans can not really compete with the interests of Moscow (Armenia, Morocco, Canada, Ukraine, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Estonia, etc.). That this was more of the ‘arranged’ move rather than a permanent commitment to leave the influence over the region to the EU and the US, speaks the fact that Russian officials generally do not like to have this issue discussed in the public, which casts a shadow of controversy and shows that the loss of military and political power in Balkans was still not accepted in many influential circles in Moscow.
Russia will eventually precisely define its interests in the Balkans, and in the period of relative cooperation with the West, this will remain mostly in the economic sphere, primarily energetic sector. This was mostly due to the transit of Russian energy supplies to the European Union, and therefore through the Balkans, which has attracted the attention of many Russian state-owned oil and gas companies that have shown interest in buying the energy infrastructure in the region. Balkans was similarly described in the RF Foreign policy Concept from 2013. This document mentions the Balkan region as a strategically important region for Moscow, but primarily in terms of the transmission and the infrastructure for the delivery of gas and oil to Europe.
The temporary loss of public interest in this part of the world did not necessarily mean the suspension of secret intelligence operations from Moscow which were mostly aimed at the weakening of the support of the local population, especially the citizens of Serbia, to the European, and especially the North Atlantic integrations, and thus the influence of Western countries in this region.
Western Balkans – collateral damage on the battlefield between the West and the East
Moscow made its grand comeback to Serbia during the rule of Vojislav Kostunica and Boris Tadic, when the Russian Gazprom bought Serbian Petroleum Industry for a bargain price, at the same time receiving the dominant market position of the former Serbian state energy company. Although the difference between the selling price and the actual value of NIS should have been replaced with the construction of gas pipeline "South Stream" through Serbia, because of the disagreements with the European Commission, Russia definitely gave up that job in 2015 without any mention on the possible compensation for the damage that was caused to Serbia.
Serbia did not receive any better treatment in the field of trade with oil and gas either. In fact it suffered a huge deficit due to predominant imports of energy from the Russian Federation. Despite the constant projections of the ‘harmonious and never better relations between Serbia and Russia’ in the public, the implementation process was accutely missing, even after numerous promises made by the President of Russia on duty-free imports of a limited contingent of cars made in Serbia.
Public diplomatic phrases and framed political messages faded after Russian media and paramedia publicly supported the indicted war criminals from the Serbian side in the wars in Yugoslavia, or convicted murderers of the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Serbia, Zoran Djindjic. In 2008, in a news piece on Serbia, Russian state television journalist Konstantin Sjomin called the assassinated Prime Minister Djindjic the "puppet of the West" who deserved a bullet in the head. Although the Serbian President at the time, Boris Tadic as well as his Democratic Party and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party reacted after this scandal and announced that they would ask for an official explanation from the top of the Russian state, the management of the Russian TV distanced themselves from the story, and not long after the incident, the journalist Sjomin received an honorary award from President Putin as a journalist of the year.
Calculating with the political points that on they would receive from the cooperation and harmonious relations with Moscow, the ruling political establishment in Belgrade at the time, headed by Tadic and Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, will once again, for their own political interests, bow their heads in front of Moscow and humiliate the country they represented. On the other hand, distrustful of all governments in Belgrade that placed European integrations on the top priority of national interests, starting from 2014, Russia will increasingly rely on the media and organizations under their direct control to preserve their influence in the region.
Strategic Research Institute – a place from which the Hybrid war was launched
Intensified Russian penetration in the media space of Balkan countries is linked to the end of 2013, more precisely October 28th, when the office of the Russian Strategic Research Institute (RSRI), whose founder is the President of the Russian Federation, was opened in Belgrade. [Num]
RSRI is officially a research and analysis center set up by a decree of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1992. Until 2009, the Institute was a part of the Foreign Intelligence Service of RF and since 2009 it began working as a consultative institution of the President of RF. According to official data, the Institute deals with the analysis and study of current events and processes in the world, giving proposals, recommendations and expertise on behalf of the state structures in Russia. This institution is also engaged in informing the public and state institutions of Russia on matters relevant to security and strategic interests of national interest.
The mere fact that since its foundation until 2009, RSRI was part of the intelligence services and the meeting place of "former" and "retired" Russian intelligence officers, casts a shadow on the real objectives of the establishment and functioning of this institution. The newspaper "The Moscow Times" labelled the Institute “a safe house of the retired Russian spies”, and the magazine New York Times reached a similar conclusion, calling the Institute “semiretirement refuge where ex-intelligence officials can work with dignity”. [Num]
That these claims were not unfounded was further proven by the way the Institute in the Balkans operated, which reached its culmination in the planning and inciting the armed rebellion in Montenegro in autumn 2016. Activities such as the ones in Montenegro is why Putin moved the Institute in 2009 from the official intelligence structures and turned it into the body of an informal intelligence operations outside Russia. That same year, Putin named Leonid Reshetnikov, a former officer with the radical-nationalist beliefs, the director of RSRI. Even from this position, Reshetnikov continued to spread his ideology.
With the establishment of the Belgrade office, RSRI has taken a key role in providing logistical and financial support to radical elements in the region in order to constantly raise tensions and cause destabilization for Euro-Atlantic integrations of the region. Although it chose Serbia as a base, the first target of the operation was Montenegro, a country which would be the first to fulfill the conditions for admission to NATO.
Nikita Bondaryev i Aleksej Timofejev, so-called experts for Balkans and South-Eastern Europe, were chosen to lead the Balkan office of the Institute. It is interesting that the opening ceremony of the Belgrade office of RSRI was attended by over 50 representatives of the Serbian social, political and academic elite who were addressed by the vicar of Serbian Patriarch Bishop Lipljan Jovan, president of the Center for Russian Studies and professor of the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade Dr Miroslav Jovanovic, founder of the humanitarian organization "Our Serbia" Mlađan Đorđević (former adviser to the President Boris Tadic, a key associate of the Institute in Serbia today) and RSRI Director in Belgrade Dr. Alexei Timofeyev as well as the already mentioned Bondaryev as a Head of the Balkan branch.
Describing the importance of the presence of the Russian Institute in Belgrade, Professor Miroslav Jovanovic said that for many years, Goethe Institute and the Institute "Cervantes" existed in Serbia’s capital, but that until the arrival of RSRI, there was not a single Russian academic institution. Jovanovic did not bother to address the fact that German and Spanish institutes operated in the area of linguistics and culture, while in the case of the RSRI it was more about para-intelligence operations. Unlike Jovanovic, who primarily wanted to conceal the true nature of the Institute, Nikita Bondarjev openly presented the agenda of RSRI "in Serbia and surrounding Serbian countries”.
As it will be seen in the case of Montenegro, the Institute will play the role of informal support for the implementation of internationally legally prohibited objectives of Russia abroad. Therefore, under the auspices of the Institute and its director at the time Leonid Reshetnikov, one line of activity was the recruitment of mercenaries among Serbian volunteers for Eastern Ukraine, and the other was their funding by the Russian tycoon Konstantin Malofeev. The center for intelligence, financial and operational activities was finally established in the Balkans. Even though it acted directly under Russian Government orders, its activities were hardly tracable to any of its official levels.
However, despite the absence of formal links and proofs of interaction with the Russian official institutions, the Institute’s connections and services make this interaction completely unambiguous and unquestionable. This was evident when Vladimir Putin removed Leonid Reshetnikov without explanation immediately after the collapse of the attempted takeover operation in Montenegro. His place was filled with Mikhail Fradkov, a former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia.
The actual purpose and reasons for the existence RSRI have become clearer after the annexation of Crimea and encouragement of pro-Russian rebellion in Eastern Ukraine. Just as it will be shown later in the example of Russian interference in the internal situation in Montenegro, the Institute has formed a pattern of action in cooperation with para-intelligence structures and tycoons close to the Kremlin that has become known as a hybrid war. According to this pattern, RSRI is a strategic logistical center for the implementation of those objectives that the official Russian leadership does not want to be brought into direct contact with. Thus, the Institute develops a strategy of destabilization, para-intelligence structures, recruits people on the ground who are potential perpetrators of such dirty work, while all the actions are financially and media-supported by tycoons close to the Kremlin. One of the people who was brought into connection with the financing of Russian separatist rebellion in the East Ukraine and the violent coup attempt in Montenegro, is Konstantin Malofeev, a conservative tycoon of Orthodox orientation, owner of several foundations and media outlets and a personal friend of Vladimir Putin.
Konstantin Malofeev: The keeper of Kremlin’s black funds used for financing of illegal actions abroad
Konstantin Malofeev, a Russian Orthodox conservative tycoon close to the Kremlin elite, is considered by the general public in Russia to be Putin’s Soros. He is a founder and owner of the investment company "Marshall Capital Partners," which invests large amounts of money into telecommunications, media and technology. When the Ukrainian government discovered his active financing of pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine, done on behalf of the Kremlin, Malofeev was banned from entering US, EU and Canada and his assets and bank accounts were frozen. Western media described this 42-year old Russian oligarch as anti-Europe-oriented Orthodox connected to the Russian Church and close to the Russian President Putin.
In addition to the investment fund “Marshall Capital”, Malofeev is also the chairman of the Board of Directors at the group of television companies “Carigrad” and a founder of Fund of St. Basil the Great and a Governing Council member of nonprofit organization “Safe Internet League”.
Malofeev came into public focus in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the beginning of the civil war in eastern Ukraine. Malofeev supported the annexation of Crimea from the beginning, and his former associates, para-informants, Alexander Borodin and Igor Girkin (known as Igor Strelkov) became major political and military figures in the so-called self-declared Donetsk People's Republic.
From the very beginning, St. Basil the Great Fund openly supported the rebels in Donbass in the form of "humanitarian aid", which is why Malofeev is on the list of Russian citizens who are under sanctions of the West.
The keeper of Kremlin’s black funds came into the focus of regional public after the failed coup preparations in Montenegro, when it was discovered that the actions planned by RSRI were directly funded by the Russian oligarch. In an attempt to prevent Montenegro's membership to NATO, in addition to the financial assistance, this oligarch has provided an adequate media support. It worked through the television station TV Carigrad and Katehon web site which broadcast radical and extremist messages with open threats and calls for provoking a civil war in Montenegro.
Thus, TV Carigrad often hosted Reshetnikov as its main guest who whose task was to undermine the authorities in Belgrade and Podgorica. Speaking on the show “Russian response - a war in Montenegro?” Leonid Reshetnikov openly said that Montenegro can easily slide into the bloodshed. He also announced the scenario of attacks on Montenegrin parliament. “In Montenegro it can even come to bloodshed. It can lead to an attack on the parliament. These sorts of things can occur. Everything will depend on the determination of the leaders and the unity of the opposition“, said Reshetnikov in the broadcast dedicated to the situation in Montenegro. [Num]
On the show he made a parallel between Montenegro and Germany led by Hitler: “Western beast knows and still hopes. What had Hitler hoped for while defending himself 100 kilometers from Berlin? This is the same case. Trump is still not the president, and there are Western European leaders who are involved in supporting Djukanovic. This is particularly true for Germany, from which he receives incentives and assistance. Hope dies last, so Djukanovic and his people will fight to the very end. After all, what can they do? Take the money and run?” thus spoke Reshetnikov.
As seen from the above example, the director of RSRI openly collaborated with Malofeev. Reshetnikov and Malofeev, among other things, assisted Milorad Dodik in his attempt to remain the President of Republika Srpska, after which he honored them with medals.
With the help of Ukrainian hackers, research portal InformNapalm.org discovered the correspondence of one of the coordinators of “Russian world” in Eastern Europe, Aleksandar Usovski, a citizen of Belarus. “In the summer of 2014, Uskovski proposes his project to the representatives of the Russian tycoon Konstantin Malofeev, who is associated with many pro-Russian movements and is popularly called the “cash register of Kremlin” in covering the subversive operations in Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent of States, including Montenegro.
In August 2014, the Uskovski received 100 thousand euros for the organization of pro-Russian rallies in support of Novorosija in Eastern Europe. Active campaigns were conducted from August to October 2014. The report on these actions, Uskovski sent to all potential future partners. The money for the organization was given personally by Konstantin Malofeev, who at that time was the main financier of self-proclaimed pro-Russian territory in Eastern Ukraine.
According to the correspondence of Uskovski, money handover was made in the offices of Malofeev in the Novinski passage in the center of Moscow, in July and August 2014. The correspondence also refers to the percentage for the organization of negotiations with Malofeev, for which the organizer of the meeting received 10 thousand euros in cash. Active campaigns in Poland were held from August to October 2014 for which Uskovski used the movement of right-wing activists of OWP and Samooborona. In addition to Poland, Uskovski conducted similar actions in Slovakia, Hungary and Brussels. According to the correspondence, after the start of the Minsk talks, Malorusija project was transferred from Malofeev to Vladislav Surkov from Kremlin, and Malofeev was transferred to the Balkans.
The portal provides further evidence of Malofeev’s involvement in the preparation of the coup in Montenegro. A few days after the failed coup in Montenegro, Uskovski writes to Jelena Sharoikiai, the Director General of TV Carigrad and Malofeev’s assistant, suggesting her their services in Poland, saying that if the Polish project succeeds, no one will remember the failure of the Montenegrin venture.
Malofeev also established strong ties with Montenegrin opposition. In September 2014 Malofeev sponsored an international conference in Moscow dedicated to the "traditional family values" and one of the participants was the Montenegrin MP from the Democratic Front, Strahinja Bulajic. During a long period of time his television station TV Carigrad broadcast numerous interviews with politicians of the Democratic Front, among others, with Andrija Mandic, one of the leaders of the coalition.
In addition to the TV Carigrad which issued extreme and threatening messages to Montenegro in recent years, Malofeev’s media influence in the region was also streaming from the clero-fascist portal Katehon. The anti-Western campaign carried out on this site, involves regular contribution of Russian and regional extremists like Aleksandr Dugin, a self-proclaimed ideologist of the New World Order, according to whom Russia should regain the territory of the Eastern Roman Empire. He is regularly joined by Djordje Vukadinovic and Jovo Bakic. Website offers Serbian translation of the selected texts that target Serbs in Montenegro and the region. In addition Malofeev and Dugin, Reshetnikov is naturally one of the members.
Although in 2015 he was banned from the entry to Montenegro since he was on the list of Russian citizens under EU sanctions, Malofeev funded and supported the adoption of a religious ceremony "merciful fire" in 2015 that was transferred from Moscow to the monastery of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Cetinje. For this Malofeev received the blessing of the Metropolitan of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro Amfilohije.
In 2015, the President of the Republic of Serbia Milorad Dodik awarded Malofeev with the highest order of Republika Srpska "Order of Njegoš" for the “special contribution to the development of economy and humanitarian cooperation between the Russian Federation and Republika Srpska, as well as the results and achievements of broader importance for Republika Srpska". The specific merits and services that Malofeev did for Republika Srpska were however, not revealed.
The case of fictional analyst Sergej Milovanović: The operating model of Russian paramedia on the route Podgorica-Banjaluka-Beograd
The model, mutual synergy and integration of Russian paramedia structures in the Balkans, as well as some local political centers of power such as the Cabinet of Milorad Dodik, is best illustrated with the case of an imaginary analyst Sergei Milovanovic whom, in the midst of the tensions following the arrest of a group accused for attempted terrorism and civil war in Montenegro, pro-Russian oriented para-media put into regional focus.
Thus, on 30th October 2016, in the pro-Russian circles operating in Republika Srpska, an alleged statement of a non-existent person was launched with the clear intention of focus diversion from the fact that the Montenegrin prosecution revealed that two Russian nationals were among the masterminds of the terrorist attack planned in Podgorica two weeks earlier, and that on 24th October, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić officially confirmed that ‘foreign elements’ were involved in the preparations of this scenario. On that day, Russian and pro-Russian portals in the entire region accused Vladimir Popović of allegedly leading a slander campaign against the President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik and his friend, an extreme Russophile, Emir Kusturica, based on the orders Djukanović and Vučić.
In all these media stories, Popović is labelled as a "political technologist in the Balkans", by a certain Sergej Milovanović, the alleged analyst from Banja Luka, who will soon turn out to be a fictional character, ie. a name that has been used before, in the case of a baby that was born in the Clinical Center of Banjaluka on January 1st 2012, to whom Dodik gave a gold coin as a first newborn in a new year. [Num]
The statement of a fictional analyst from Banja Luka was allegedly given to the web portal Srpska.ru, then reported by the Serbian News Agency (SRNA), followed by the Republika Srpska Television (RTRS), portal Sputnik Nova srpska politicka misao and then Iskra, Kosovo-front.ru and Princip.me.
The statement of the non-existent Banja Luka "analyst" was: "Following the successful referendum on the Day of Republika Srpska as part of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the brilliant victory of Milorad Dodik the leader of Serbian Alliance of Independent Social Democrats in the local elections in Republika Srpska, Popović launched a multi-level campaign in the Balkans. The campaign’s main goal was to downgrade the achievements of the Serbian entity’s leader in order to show that there can not be a successful Russophile and a patriot in this area. He began with a wide-spread attack through the regional media with headlines such as 'Arrest Dodik', 'Dodik is afraid of rape in prison, as Gaddafi', ‘ The one with no policy hides behind the people' and so on.
The problem arose when it became clear that no one had even heard of a regional expert called Sergei Milovanović. This was also confirmed by numerous attempts to Google his earlier statements. This case fascinatingly reminded of the previous case of Biljana Vukićević , an art teacher also from Banja Luka, whose name was misused by the people from the cabinet of the former President of Serbia, Boris Tadić. Namely, in 2009, a series of "authors" articles were published under her name on certain obscure Italian websites, in order to later be used by the Serbian prosecutor for organized crime to file false charges against political opponents of the regime in Serbia and authorities in neighboring Montenegro.
What was especially interesting in the case of a fictional Banja Luka analyst Sergei Milovanović, was the flow of the story about the "attacks on Dodik and Kusturica", behind which were allegedly Aleksandar Vučić and Milo Djukanović. RTRS reported the news citing SRNA, who in turn conveyed the information to the portal srpska.ru. However, on the portal srpska.ru there was no evidence of that news piece, or of Sergei Milovanović and his statement.However, on the Facebook page of the portal srpska.ru there was a post from Kosovo-front.ru and the linked text that was published on the portal princip.me, which is in Montenegro.
In the case of pro-Russian regional cooperation of paramedia structures in fabricating and placing false information, it turned out that their operation was coordinated from one center and with clearly directed political objectives in the region.
Although, by all accounts, the initial news appeared on the website located in Montenegro, given the topic of the article, the origin of the fictional analyst and the geographical scope of the story, there is no doubt that it came from circles close to the Cabinet of Milorad Dodik. In this case, however, a far more important information is that a number of pro-regime media from Banja Luka did not verify the accuracy of the news it published, and in such circumstances, it is quite easy to invent an ‘analyst’ who creates a fake news. Furthermore, it is even more alarming that a number of journalists' associations in the region, as well as the involved political and media actors, do not see the need react to incidents like this nor distance themselves from the fake news story.
New positioning of Russia in the Balkans
Thanks to the complete openness and transparency of the objectives they stand for, Serbian NGO Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) published a comprehensive study in 2016 called "Eyes Wide Shut: Enhancing Russia's soft power in Serbia" where they described the presence and forms of operation of Russian sources of soft power in the region. The study published a list of 109 pro-Russian media and organizations that are present and operate in this area. Among them there were 8 internet portals, 16 pro-Kremlin media and 6 entirely Russian media.
Although the study that CEAS published has made a few superficial, emotionally conditioned and largely unfounded conclusions regarding the democratic nature of the European orientation of the current government in Serbia, which has made the list of pro-Russian organizations to some extent based on unclear criteria and personal attitudes of the author, the greatest number of organizations that have been identified as advocates and promoters of Russian influence is put there with a clear and undoubted reason, taking into account their views on international relations.
In terms of media, a focal point of Russian influence in the region is the agency Sputnik, which performs politically and ideologically intoned placement of information and analysis that Serbian mainstream media uncritically republish as credible and objective news, although it is obvious that they do not meet even the basic professional criteria.
Agency Sputnik- Putin’s most powerful media weapon
The official description of the Sputnik Serbian edition says that this agency is a "modern news agency which broadcasts news, has its own internet portal and mobile applications, does radio broadcasts and has a multimedia press center," and that it covers news about world politics and economics, aimed at an international audience.The headquarters of the agency Sputnik is located in Moscow, and regional offices around the world are in Washington, Beijing, Paris, Berlin, Belgrade, Cairo, London, Edinburgh, Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro, etc.
Sputnik “brand” was launched into the media market on 10th November 2014, as part of the Russian Media Group "Russia Sevodnja". Precursor agencies were international news agency RIA Novosti and radio "Voice of Russia", which was shut down in 2013. The editorial boards of Sputnik publish in more than 30 languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese, Serbian, Italian, Polish, Czech, Vietnamese, Japanese, etc. Sputnik News Agency broadcasts 24 hours a day in English, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.
The website also states that, among other things, it performs “studies of public opinion within Sputnik.Polls".
The scarce impressum only states the Editor in Chief for Serbia Ljubinka Milinčić, while the function of her deputy is given to Uros Bobic. The names of the other 30 members of the board are unknown. Internet edition of Sputnik was registered in the Russian Federal service for supervision in the sphere of connections, information technology and mass communications on 17th November 2014. Federal State Enterprise "International Information Agency 'Rossi Sevodnja" (MIA, "Rossi Sevodnja") is stated as a founder, and the Editor in Chief is Anisimov A.S., mostly unknown to the general public.
It is interesting that in Putin's declaration of 2013 which established the agency Rossi Sevodnja, it says that the main aim of this new state agency is to "promote Russian state policy and public life to the world."
In contrast to that, its predecessor RIA Novosti, emphasized "objectivity, authenticity and its own opinion regardless of the political situation” as its core values. Although the RIA Novosti will be remembered in history as an integral part of the propaganda of the official Moscow, the absence of the need to even formally disguise the real purpose of the new media is a clear indication of a new phase of confrontation, intensified by geopolitical interests, of Russia and the West.
FBI investigation on suspicious and unauthorized media operations
As part of the investigation of Russian interference in the American presidential elections, on suspicion of working as an organ of propaganda for the Russians, FBI has launched an official investigation into the agency Sputnik in 2017. [Num]
As part of the investigation as to whether Sputnik violated the Law on foreign agencies in USA (FARA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation has interrogated a former employee of the agency Sputnik Andrew Feinberg. During the investigation, the FBI got access the correspondence of Sputnik from Feinberg and another former employee of the Washington Sputnik department, Joseph John Fionda. Feinberg said that the hearing was focused on the “internal organization, editorial process and financing of Sputnik".
US investigators were trying to find out who did the employees of the Sputnik American branch receive orders from and whether they ever received them from Moscow. In reviewing the correspondence, investigators have found a “User manual for publishing”, printed by the Kremlin Sputnik parent company Sevodnja Rossi on 103 pages. The manual clearly showed that traditional journalistic neutrality is not the mandate of the company. Instead, reporters from Sputnik were to provide the insight into the official Russian view of the important international issues to their readers, but also to “enhance the loyalty to the Russian Federation and its interests.”
“Our main goal is to inform the international public about political, economic and ideological stance of Russia on local and global issues” says in the guide. “To this end, we must always strive to be objective, but we have to be loyal to the national interests of the Russian Federation“ states the "journalist guide" intended for employees of Sputnik.
In a report from January 2017, compiled by the US intelligence community, journalists' organizations such as the Sputnik and Russia Today (RT) were identified as part of the ”Russian propaganda machine that serves as a platform for messages of Kremlin” that has played a key role of influence on the Presidential campaign in the US in 2016.
Belgrade Office – platform for pro-Russian media operations in the region
Unlike the rest of the world where the Russian Sputnik and other para-state propaganda services are increasingly viewed with skepticism and a reasonable dose of distrust, in Serbia the situation is completely opposite. Despite undisguised advocacy for the stands of the official Russia, regular production of fake news and misinformation, Sputnik in Serbia is widely used as an unquestionable and objective source of information that Serbian mainstream media regularly republish. Due to the increased influence over the media, notably the Serbian-speaking area, the agency Sputnik increasingly attracts attention throughout the region.
Searching for the background for media activities of this agency, reporter of Globus from Zagreb, Darko Hudelist, visited the Belgrade headquarters of the Serbian office of Sputnik. [Num]
Finding himself in an almost hidden Dorćol office of Sputnik, Hudelist met with Milinčić Ljubinka, Editor-in-Chief of the Balkan branch of this pro-Kremlin paramedia organization.
Ljubinka Milinčić is a Serbian journalist originally from Kosovo, spent 13 years in Moscow, from 2002 to 2015, after graduating from the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade. For a short while she was working as a press attaché at the Serbian Embassy in Russia, and then for many years, was a correspondent for NIN, Politika and RTS. She translated several dozen books from Russian into Serbian, and she herself wrote several, including the two on President Putin.
Sputnik was opened on February 3rd 2015 in Belgrade, shortly after the closing of the former Voice of Russia, managed directly from Moscow. The agency now operates in 30 countries around the world. European offices include France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and when it comes to the Balkans, it operates only in Serbia.
Although Milinčić said that the vision statement of the media is to "to speak about what others keep quiet," analysis of the content published by this media, as well as numerous pieces of evidence that have emerged about its internal operations and internal organization, indicate otherwise- that it is a state propaganda project that the official Moscow launched with the aim of becoming something like a Russian Free Europe, that is, anti-CNN. In sort, the most powerful propaganda tool of Russia against US and the West.
Although the impressum has only 2 names written, Serbian Sputnik employs 33 people. They work for the web portal at the moment, and have leased slots on Belgrade radio stations Studio B and Radio Novosti.
Talking about the ways the agency is funded, Ljubinka Milinčić admits that Moscow deals with this. "I do not deal with this, Moscow does. We as a branch do not have bank accounts. We receive salaries from Moscow. We have a studio and receive paychecks – and our job is to make the program. Noone is on a permanent contract, only temporary i.e. per year, including me. This is the trend in media worldwide. However, no one lost their job here. People even left safe jobs to come to Sputnik. It seemed to them that they will be better here. Our working conditions are better than throughout the region, and that the same can be said of salaries" she said.
Although Sputnik portal has 50 to 60 thousand visits per day, its content is quoted 200 to 300 times in Serbia daily, which is why the founders of the agency are more than satisfied. In a statement to the Zagreb weekly Globus, Milinčić particularly pointed out that the ex-President of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolić, organized a reception for the agency on the first day of its work. On the other hand, Sputnik was the first media outlet to announce that Nikolić would run for president of Serbia against the current President Aleksandar Vučić, although this was later avoided through their mutual agreement and the so far unknown compensation Nikolić received to leave politics.
"In Serbian public opinion Russian factor is on the rise, our presence is felt as necessary, this is the reason for our success. From all the Sputnik’s here, our job is the easiest. Others’ accounts are blocked, they are being closed etc. like last year in Turkey ", said Milinčić and added: "At Sputnik we are not satisfied with the new world order, we are against neoliberalism and globalization and we advocate for an entirely different system, without such vast imbalances and blackmailing mechanisms used by the European Union or anyone else. Serbs are people who would not accept any blackmail punching-bag games! Everything against the mainstream is popular in Serbia, there are no satisfied people in this Western system. "
Open anti-Western orientation is not hidden even in Sputnik’s texts which are usually reduced to the unconditional defense of the Russian position, even where there is plenty of evidence of violations of international rules (as in the case of Russian athletes doping of which was sanctioned by the international sports associations). In contrast to the unconditional defense of Russian interests and positions, Sputnik passionately blames the Western counties for all the problems in the region, and the world in general. For example, Sputnik accuses the West of wanting to break up Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, although these two countries preserved their territorial integrity primarily due to the engagement of Western countries.
At the same time, Sputnik further intensifies the already existing anti-Western feeling in Serbia through their key authors and columnists and their biased commentaries and fabricated news. In the light of this, Serbian public was recently exposed to the false information published by Sputnik, to which even the US Pentagon had to react publicly. This reaction followed the publishing of the misinformation that led the Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin to criticize a senior US General Curtis Scaparotti, who warned that Russia was interfering in matters of this Balkan country. In a statement, Pentagon stated that the false information appeared in the Serbian media about an alleged quote of General Scaparotti, only with an aim to inflame anti-American feelings. [Num]
An anonymous official of the US Army European Command accused Russian Sputnik and other media of fabricating news, saying that the Russian influence helped the spread of anti-American feelings in Serbia. The other, also unnamed US official, said the US military is making great efforts to be proactive and prevent the information that Russia is deliberately fabricating.
US Army General Curtis Scaparotti, who is the commander of NATO forces in Europe, spoke earlier in the Congress about Russian influence in Serbia, which Sputnik and a large number of local Serbian media deliberately misquoted as if the US general accused Serbia of being a threat to the Balkans.
The transcript of Scaparotti’s testimony of 8 March 2018 before the US Senate Committee on Armed Forces, published by Reuters, does not contain any mention of the American general’s reference to Serbia as a threat for the Balkans, only of Russian influence in Serbia.
Although a key pillar and a foundation of pro-Kremlin paramedia structures in this region is Sputnik, this outlet is definitely not an isolated case of pro-Russian media that operate in the Balkans. According the previously mentioned study CEAS published, the media that operate as paramedia structures under the control of the official Kremlin include: “Ruski Ekspres”, “Ruska rec”, , “Vostok”, “Gazeta” and “NewsFront”. [Num]
Unlike the mentioned paramedia that operate in Serbia CEAS made a special category for the Serbian pro-Russian media, among which: Fakti, Srbin.info, Nova srpska politička misao, Fond strateške kulture, Pečat, Novi Standard, SRBski FBReporter, Vidovdan, Geopolitika, CEOPOM Istina, Infoport, Intermagazin, Princip, Pravda, Oslobođenje, Kosmopol, Snaga naroda – radio channel and IN4S portal which is focused on events in Montenegro and in between the fight with DPS and Milo Djukanovic often cooperates with organizations and media that are the part of pro-Western network OCCRP-MANS, Vijesti and Monitor.
Even though it is the only media outlet described as the official Russian state media agency, Sputnik is not very popular in many political conservative and patriotic-minded circles in Serbia. There are those who prefer, or have founded themselves, much more extreme and explicit pro-Russian oriented websites. One of these hard pro-Russian oriented portals was launched in August 2011, by a Belgrade journalist and former correspondent for Vecernje Novosti from Moscow Djuro Bilbija. The portal bears the name - Fakti. Unlike Sputnik, behind which is the official Russian government, Fakti is his personal project, which Bilbija allegedly allegedly started with his own money and resources.
Russophillic “Fakti” - media portal for the production of fake news
Đuro Bilbija was born in 1948 n Bosansko Grahovo. As a correspondent of Večernje Novosti he spent 13 years in Moscow (from 1989 to 2002) in order to become a deputy Editor-in-Chief of that newspaper and subsequently Editor-in-Chief of Glas Javnosti. More than 7 years ago he started his private portal “Fakti” in which he invested all his shares from Večernje Novosti. His two younger sons, Nenad and Srđan (his oldest son Bojan is writing for Politika), are helping him edit the portal, along with his wife Tatjana who is an economist by profession.
Biblija defines the editorial concept of his portal Fakti as follows:
“When people ask me whether my website is russophillic, I usually say it’s not, although in some upper layer it is. My opinion is – and I consistently keep promoting it on my portal – that Serbia should make exactly the same type of alliance with Russia that USA made with Israel, actually Israel with USA. And that includes military, economic and spiritual aspect. That alliance should be above political parties, above politics and eternal. And only when that type of relation is made with Russia, Serbia could recommend itself to European Union – not sooner. And if the EU wants to accept us as an eternal ally of Russia, so be it…!”
The Fakti portal daily visits numbers oscillate from 25 thousand to 37 thousand visitors per day, and in some emergency situations (for example during the war in the east of Ukraine) it reaches up to 45 thousand visitors. Biblija is pleased with the attendance, particularly given the fact that his portal, in his own words, is over-politicised, meaning that “it is a political website with strong geopolitical segment” that, by the nature of things, cannot have the most numerous audience. Biblija is especially pleased with the fact that texts appearing on his portal are being quite often cited in other media, mainly because they can’t be found on other places than Fakti.
As a former correspondent of Večernje Novosti, Biblija still keeps in touch with Moscow. He is also very well informed about Russian media in which he can find an intriguing text that he immediately translates in Serbian language and makes it available for local pro-Russian oriented audience.
Unlike Sputnjik, Fakti has an open critical relation to pro-European or pro-Western orientation of Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić, so Biblija remarks: “I think that such an orientation towards entering the EU is not the best nor the wisest for Serbs. Anyway, the EU will eventually fall apart. The EU are sharks and not the God that treats its children with love”.
On the website fakti.org itself, the following columns are featured in the main categories and sub categories: Orthodox point, Svetosavlje, The Greek cross, Glob Resistance, Eurosceptic, AlterAmerica, The Croats, The Shiptars, Vatican, Serbian point, Serbianized news, Kremlin, Putiniana, Aliens, The End of the world, Serbian spirit… (Orthodox Point, Svetosavlje, Grčki krst, GlobOtpor, Evroskeptici, AlterAmerica, Hrvati, Šiptari, Vatikan, Serbian Point, Posrbljene vesti, Kremlj, Putiniana, Vanzemaljci, Smak sveta, Srpski duh...)
Among the authors of the site, the leaders of anti-Western stream in Serbia stand out : Čedomir Antić, Milan Vidojević, Srđa Trifković, Dragan Lakićević, Siniša Ljepojević and Milijana Baletić who became famous during the legendary reporting from Sarajevo in 1992, streaming live during the TV Journal, in which she was saying that “Muslim extremists are throwing living Serbian children in cages with lions in the Zoo Pionirska Dolina”.
Division in two columns: “For” and “Against”
Considering the rest of the pro-Russian media in Serbia, they are mostly divided based on two categories: the first is comprised of those who are “for” and those who are “against” current authorities in Serbia and their pro-European orientation, whilst the other category represents the division on the distinction between rational and emotional (irrational) websites.
Among pro-Russian websites simultaneously supporting president of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić we can mention portal Novi Standard (New Standard) edited by former Editor in Chief of the equally titled magazine Željko Cvijanović and Pečat (Stamp) in possession of Milorad Vučelić, former director of national television in the time of the worst war provoking propaganda of Slobodan Milošević. On the other hand, political analyst and Member of Parliament in the assembly of Serbia and editor of nationalist and pro-Russian oriented portal Nova srpska politička misao - NSPM (New Serbian Political Thought) Đorđe Vukadinović, can be put in a political media column that is categorically against Vučić’s ascendency.
As for the other division, in the group of rational websites we can classify those promoting the idea that Serbia must not turn its back to Russia, but at the same time, it can develop relations with all other countries, along with western ones. The ones that fall within this category are Vidovdan and Novi Standard (New Standard). Vidovdan, among other things, publishes columns by political analysts Branko Radun and Dragomir Anđelković who is close with the nationalist wing of the governing Serbian Progressive Party.
In his statement for Globus from Zagreb, the owner of the portal Novi Standard Željko Cvijanović described the editorial concept of his website in the following way:”The majority on Russian websites considers that Serbia should enter the Euro-Asian union and have strong relations with Russia. We, however, hold a certain distance: we consider that Serbia should, apart from Russia, have relations, bilateral in particular, with Western countries too. That is why the nationalists are accusing both– Vidovdan and us - of being pro-Vučić”.
Srbin.info (Serbian.info), Nova srpska politička misao and Fund for strategic culture belong to the group of so called emotional-irational websites. Among them, srbin.info represents the website that gathers materials from all other patriotic portals in Serbia, giving them clear anti-globalist, anti-Western and pro-Russian connotation.
The concept of NSPM was described by its editor Đorđe Vukadinović in these words: “Our portal is, above all, pro-Serbian and would always mean, here in Serbia, that it is up to a certain extent pro-Russian too. Texts and commentaries published on our website are in general pro-Russian tone, but this doesn’t imply that they are absolutely in favour of current Russian politics or Russian government. Moreover, my personal opinion is that Russia is making a mistake in its approach to Serbia. Russia treats Serbia as a groom treats a girl for whom he surely knows will be his, so he doesn’t make an effort to win her over”.
Nova srpska politička misao (New Serbian political thought), as an NGO and quasi-intellectual centre, ocassionally conducts not quite trustworthy surveys that are not exactly based on scientific methodology about relation of Serbian citizens towards the Europian union, NATO and Russia. According to the results of those surveys, the trends match with some other surveys of a similar topic, except for the numbers:, in the year 2000 more than 70% of Serbs supported the entry of Serbia in the EU, 20% supported the entry of Serbia in NATO alliance, while 60% of citizens supported the economical-political alliance with Russia.
In the meantime, support for the entry of Serbia in the EU has decreased below 50%, support for the entry of Serbia into NATO alliance has fallen to 10%, while 70% or 75% of Serbs has shown interest for some form of alliance with Russia. Hence, Russia and EU are not a priori mutually excluding each other in Serbian public opinion – there are those who opt for one choice or the other – but it is obvious that NATO and Russia do. As many Serbs are declaring to be in favour of alliance with Russia, the same number is stating they are categorically against NATO. Between 70 and 80 % of people are against NATO and 15 to 20% against Russia.
Finally, in the group of the so called emotional websites we can find pro-Russian oriented portal Fund for strategic culture, behind which is Anja Filimanova who is very close with Russian historian and a member of Serbian academy of science and art Jelena Guskova. According to some analysts, English and Russian version of that portal are quite trustworthy, while Serbian version contains many extremes and aberrations. Serbian sociologist Slobodan Antonić who previously actively participated in editing and promoting NSPM, is also collaborating with the Fund. Although some analysts in Serbia claim that estimations of importance and influence of Russian and pro-Russian media in Serbia are exaggerated and that so called Russian soft power in the form of Russian propaganda in Serbia practically doesn’t exist, and that some organizations financed by Western foundations are deliberately making a myth out of it, all the enumerated data clearly indicate that Russia, under Putin’s leadership, is actively acting by the means of propaganda and that its influence is more and more felt in Serbia as well as in all the Western Balkans. They go even further, saying that after the referendum of Brexit and the elections in the USA in 2016, its propaganda can be more and more seen in the entire West.
The essence of present Russian understanding of world and its role in it lies in the fact that Kremlin strategists have figured out the importance of propaganda as a means of acting and the usage of so called soft sources of power. When in 1989 the Berlin wall finally came down, Russians looked like a bunch of disoriented people lost in time and space, and today, according to Western media, they represent world leaders in the field of propaganda.
The attack on the media-intelligence level
Among pro-Russian subjects, aside from so called “media“ or the ones who are self proclaimed as such, CEAS listed 16 political movements, 2 Russian organisations-subbranches, 3 foundations, 8 internet portals, 14 pro-Russian political parties, 21 associations of citizens, 6 student organisations and 10 Russian national organisations registered in Serbia. The thing that majority of these organisations have in common are non-transparent organisational structures, absence of funding and financial sources, advocacy for non-democratic heritage, disrespect for the Rule of Law and Human Rights, relativisation and misdemonstration of personal and collective terms, ideological perverting and slurring of significance of democratic principles, denial of civil society, transitional justice and EU integrations and also general demonisation of developed Western democracies, NATO alliance especially.
Opposed to desreasing the significance and benefits of European Integrations of Serbia and cooperation with EU, pro-Russian paramedia structures persistently impose an interpretative frame in which factually unfounded narratives on the nature of historical relations between Serbia and Russia aare constructed and deliberately spread, especially within the field of economy cooperation and the possibility of its increase. The future cooperation between Serbia and Russian Federation is deliberately being imposed as an alternative to the European integration process, despite the lack of it’s grounds, mechanisms or rationally grounded mutual interests.
Due to the fact that these paramedia and organisations offer non-existing and unreal alternatives within a rational processes, they have a destructive potential on the account of Serbian society development and general Serbian interests. Their destructive potential and intentions were especially transparent in unsuccessful attempt of Montenegrin coup in autumn 2016. Pro-Russian paramedia structures participated actively in creating the atmosphere that would prevent Montenegro become a member of NATO, which was the same intention Russian Intelligence service had.
Through many files and analysis, Antidot described the mechanisms and manners of pro-Russian structures in Montenegro whose task was the collapse of democracy in this country: Putin’s coup on Montenegro, Russian media anatomy in Montenegro, How not to confuse Russian propaganda with Russian politics, Summary of misinformation, insinuations and malice, The Fire front, The Fire front (II edition)…
The influence of Russian paramedia structures and the events it caused in Montenegro, Serbia and rest of the region, results from officially proclaimed foreign policy goals and foreign policy strategy of Russian Federation from 2013. One of the Russian foreign policy explicit goals was the Russian endeavor to „increase it’s influence and power“ in the world and the strategy to achieve it was to use the „soft power“ as an amendment to the traditional dimplomacy. To define the significance and range of the soft power in the mentioned strategy, it was stated: “Soft power is a comprehensive method in order to achieve foreign policy goals built on the civil society potential, informing, cultural and other methods and technologies, traditional dimplomacy alternatives which are becoming unavoidable element of modern international relations...Simultaniously, increase of global competition and the potential of crisis increase, sometimes creates a risk of destructive and illegal usage of soft power and human rights concept, in order to practice political pressure onto the sovereign states so as to force interference in their internal affairs, destabilize their political situation, manipulate the Public Opinion under the cultural and human right foreign project funding disguise“.
To prove the existence of soft power nature, there was a recent discovery of Russian campaign for spread of fake news on Facebook. Facebook published the discovery of political ads created through fake profiles, worth over 100.000 dollars. They were paid for through the Moscow related bank accounts, which American public defined as one more proof of Russian interference with American Presidential elections in 2016. Majority (around 3.000) ads, didn’t invite the public to vote for a specific candidate, but dealt with questions of society which caused a great public division, such as sexual minority rights, racism, weapon and immigrant control. There were 470 fake profiles and pages which were shut down in the meantime. Within the internal investigation, Facebook discovered that the fake profiles were created by a Russian company called “Internet Research Agency“, known for its usage of “trolls“ to publish certain comments on social and web networks. Facebook notified American Congress Comitee and the Senate which are investigating Russian interference with American Presidential elections in 2016, and the proofs were presented to the Special Prosecutor Robert Miller who is in charge of the investigation.
In addition to the 3.000 ads mentioned, Facebook detected another 2.200 suspicious ads of 50.000 dollar worth, which could also indicate Russian interference with American Presidential elections. A few of the ads were bought from the Facebook profile with american IP address but set in Russian language.
Due to similar revelations, Twitter banned Russian Television and Sputnik International to share sposored publications, similar measures were introduced by Facebook while Google executives promised to reduce links which lead to Russian Television and Sputnik International in order to fight Moscow misinformation spread.
Hybrid war against Montenegro
Pro-Russian propaganda influence in the Western Balkans was most obvious in the attempt to prevent Montenegro from becoming a member of NATO alliance. Anti-western forces had unconditional support of pro-Russian paramedia and Russian Intelligence Structure to overthrow pro-Western oriented Government in Podgorica by causing disorders, preforming coups and even planning terroristic actions. All this was coordinated with and dictated by the mentioned Institute for Strategic Research.
The cause of more intense interest of Russian and pro-Russian media for Montenegro, started in the second half of 2015 when the strongest opponent “Democratic Front“ organised protests in order to overthrow the Government headed by Milo Đukanović. This continued throughout 2016, after the October elections and events that occured on the same day which presented the attempt of terroristic performance and coup supported by Russia. The goal was to assassinate Đukanović, prevent NATO membership and bring the pro-Russian Democratic Front to power.
The framework of the vicious plan was given by anti-Western oriented media such as daily Dan , open Russophille site IN4S , Serbian branch of Sputnik International as the key paramedia sub-branch in the region. In addition, delclaratively pro-Western oriented daily Vijesti which is the strangest story point and gives it a specific lack of principle impression and ideaological division absence as the main determinant of the interest related media influence. Together with other interest related regional media, pro-Russian media in Montenegro demonstrated the way this team of media and their destructive behaviour influences in practice.
Interest and force constellation resulted in paradoxal cooperation between pro-Russian media and the paramedia and NGOs funded by Western Foundations, all in order to overthrow Milo Đukanović and his Democratic Socialist Party. These political forces, therefore, received the unconditional support from anti-Đukanović NGO media such as dailies Vijesti, Dan and the weekly Monitor and especially open Russophille site IN4S during the protests which occured in Autumn 2015 and which were officially organised by the pro-Russian coalition of Democratical Front (New Serbian Democracy by Andrija Mandic, Nebojsa Medojevic’c Change Movement and Predrag Bulatovic’s Democratical Society Party). In support fof this were Western funded NGOs. One of their favorite Western Foundation candidates was Vanja Ćalović and her organisation MANS, who were openly against pro-Western Government while her husband Nikola Marković openly lobbied against Montenegrin NATO membership, from the position of editor in chief of Russianphille daily Dan . Some media and political actors from Serbia joined this ad-hoc coallition, performing the dirty job of spreading misinformation on the events in the neighbour country.
During the protests in Podgorica, which culminated with the attempt of demonstrators enetering the Government building which was stopped by the order Officials, above mentioned media were to interpret the events into the frame set in advance, by misdefining the facts and demonstrating them selectively in order to say that this is the case of corrupt, criminal, unpatriotic , society alienated, pro-Western power against citizens who were calmly protesting, demanding their Constitutional rights.
In spite of the activity of pro-Russian and anti-Western orientation in the evening protests, these performances were diligently boradcasted by TV Vijesti, pro-Western and anti-Đukanović orientation. Same reports were taken over by Sputnik and INS4S, while key moments, but selected according to the target audience appeared the next day in dailies Dan and Vijesti and weekly Monitor. When the protests escalated the Law framed permissons, the support for this coallition came from Serbian Orthodox Church Metropolis headed by Amfilohije Radović, who addressed the protestants that “Drljević-Titoistic“ Montenegro is not a country and that it has no future in Europe where Milo Đukanović Administration runs “blind“.
Despite partial concealment, as anti Government protests progressed, it became more clear that the only point of them was to prevent Montenegrin NATO Alliance membership, which is exactly what happened at the end of that year. In attempt to postpone the decision by simulating the protests, the primat is at one point taken over by pro-Russian elements who consider violent encounter with Montenegrin officials as the only solution for the way out.
On the anniversary of the October 5th changes in Serbia, open pro-Russian Democratic Party of Serbia, launches the supporting petition to their like-minded members in the neighbour country. The petition, which was an orchestred October 5th simulation, was signed by the ones who opposed Euro-Atlantic integrations and Montenegro independence: Milo Lompar, Miša Đurković, Slobodan Samardžić, Milan Brdar, Slobodan Reljić, Dušan Proroković, Željko Cvijanović, Leon Kojen, Mihailo Medenica, Đorđe Vukadinović, Vladan Glišić, Andrej Fajgelj and others. Among other things, the text stated: “ People demand Freedom. Those people are citizens of Montenegro but also the ones who have no rights whatsoever in Montenegro. Those are our people“. “Those are our people“ is something that was simulating the motive from the 90s War, with clear goal to raise additional riot against Milo Đukanović’s regime and to support the strive of Democratic Front lead by Andrija Mandić’s New Serbian Democratical party.
Simultaneously with the support of anti-Western and nationalist forces from Serbia, pre-revolution atmosphere is being created in Montenegro which escalates with selective presentation of what was happening in the streets of Podgorica. TV Vijesti and portal IN4S broadcasted the attempt of the police forces to remove illegally set up stage and tents in the center of Podgorica where we could clearly see the protesters verbally insulting, provoking and physically attacking the police force, followed by the MP of the Democratic Front Nikola Bajčetić who tried to break through the police cordon by “Renault Megane“ car. TV Vijesti assembled a footage which shows a member of police force using a pepper Spray against MP Milan Kneževića, but they left out the part where he tried to attack a member of police force, taking his uniform hat and throwing it in the bunch to trample on it. The fitted footage was used in order to manipulate the Public with the image of police force abuse as Knežević allegedly ended up in a hospital after the incident.
TV Vijesti montiraju snimak na kojem se vidi kako policajac biber sprejom prska poslanika Milana Kneževića, dok se iz priloga izostavljaju momenti koji su prethodili tom događaju tokom kojih je Knežević pokušao da udari policajca, skidajući mu kapu i bacajući je drugima da je šutiraju. Tako montirani snimak bio je upotrebljen s ciljem manipulativnog prikaza slike o tome kako je policija primenila prekomernu silu, pošto je Knežević posle incidenta navodno završio u bolnici. Srđan Milić, the leader of Socialistic party reffered to the police force action as a “brutal assault of the organized criminal group dressed in the uniform“ trying to justify the official police force (headed by the member of Socialdemocratic party andthe Minister of Internal Affairs Raško Konjević at that time) by saying that they would never perform something similar, but “Milo Đukanović’s bribed criminals”. The Democratic Front went into a different direction of strategy, multiplying the number of police force members and stating that couple of thousand police force members, fully armed, ”brutally assaulted and broke peaceful, democratic, citizen protests”. The same day, Serbian daily Večernje novosti published texts under the following headline “Chaos in Podgorica: The Police Force broke the demonstrations with tear-gas and dredges“. This headline was created by the conservative nationalist, warmonger and Editor in Chief of the daily at that time Ratko Dmitrović whose headline reminded of the roles he had during the war in Croatia. Dmitrović’s daily goes further with statements that Montenegro is on the edge of a Civil War and that Đukanović is prepared to defend his dictatorship by all means, while the mentioned texts are being supplied with images and video clips that belong to Vijesti.The Serbian Association of Journalists are joining the propaganda with the 18th October statement “ Editor in Chief of IN4S portal and a member of The Serbian Association of Journalists Gojko Raičević assaulted due to police forces violence in Podgorica“. He presented himself as an innocent reporter on duty during the police force intervention, hiding that he was one of the main organisers and initiators of the protests. What is interesting is that even though Gojko Raičević is a Montenegrin citizen and resident, he is still a member of sindicle Serbian Association of Journalists and the owner of pro-Russian portal IN4S, which are a tool and mainstreem in Serbia to back him up while he is performing subversive business for the country. IN4S (enforce- apply the law and force) site was founded in 2008, and in March 2011the mentioned site initiated the action against Montenegrin membership in NATO and became a coordinating NGO web named “No NATO-No War“ being financed directly from Russia and in addition organises and sets logistics for the protests in Montenegro.
The background of the actions of the organizer of the protests and their media logistics was definitely confirmed when the newspaper Pobjeda published, in the edition from October 18th, details from the letter that the leader of the NSD (New Serbian Democracy), Andrija Mandić, sent seven days earlier, to diplomatic missions of the NATO member states, and only three days prior to the official visit of the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to Montenegro on October 14th, who positively assessed its progress on the path to full integration into the Alliance. In his letter, Mandić warned, in the letter, of the "consequences of the call" that the country should join the North Atlantic Alliance: "If, however, the governments of your countries decide to conduct the process of Montenegro's membership in NATO with an illegitimate government, without involving the real will of citizens, it will mean only one thing - that you once again neglected what you formally advocate for. [...] This would bring new temblors and dramatic consequences in the future life of Montenegrin society. I do not have to emphasize that such a devastating decision cannot be legitimate or legal, and that the absolute majority of Montenegrin citizens, who oppose NATO membership, would never accept that."
Throughout the protests, anti-government demonstrations in Montenegro were provided with logistic by pro-Russian political parties, NGOs and the media from Serbia. Thus, in the peak of the protest in front of the Montenegrin Embassy in Belgrade a gathering of people who support the demonstrators in Podgorica was organized, where about a hundred people gathered, including Aleksandar Raković (Institute for Recent History of Serbia), Vladan Glišić (Dveri Movement), Vladimir Dobrosavljević, Đorđe Vukadinović (NSPM – New Serbian Political Thought), Sanda Rašković Ivić (president of Democratic Party of Serbia), Mlađan Đorđević (founder of the Serbian code for special links of youths with Russia) and others. Đorđević, who served as deputy director of the Office of the President of the Republic from 2004 to 2007, at the time when its director was Dragan Đilas, who then takes him with him to be his deputy in the position of Minister of the Investment Plan, after which he would become adviser to Boris Tadić for Kosovo and Metohija - he was accused in 2010 by Milo Đukanović of helping the opposition of Montenegro. This gathering is being recorded in agreement with the Gojko Raičević’s portal IN4S, who will also publish it, the inscriptions on the banners are "Part of the Revolution", "Milo degenerate" and "Freedom to Serbian Sparta", the gathered people are screaming "He’s finished" and "Milo thief”, and the theme of the struggle for the freedom of the Serbian people in Montenegro, the oppressed position of the Serbs and so on, is being emphasized.
The newspaper Pobjeda from Podgorica on October 26th writes about informal ties with the party of Andrija Mandić, but also about Russian associations that the mentioned individuals and their organizations highlight on social networks; the typical profile of the person was illustrated first by a picture on a joint dinner with Mandić, on September 18th, nine days before the start of the protest in front of the Montenegrin Assembly, where alongside of the advisor Vladimir Dobrosavljević, certain Saša Adamović, Miki Vukašović, Borko Ilić and Dano Jukić were present. The last one, born in Podgorica, and resident of Novi Sad, was a member of the military units of the FRY Army, on his Facebook profile he says that he participated in the fight against NATO in 1999 and that he approved the operation of the ICTY defendant for war crimes against humanity, Ratko Mladić. On the day of the protest, on October 24th, the Montenegrin police returned from the borderline, extremists from Novi Sad and Sombor who were going to Podgorica. The same person is connected with the member of the Main Board of the Democratic Party of Serbia Dragan Trifković, who is also director of the Center for Geostrategic Studies from Moscow, writes Pobjeda, "in charge of finding Russian analysts whose propaganda attitudes he represents - mainly against NATO, but also abundantly Montenegro ". Trifković is already promoting the texts on the official website of the DPS, which are then transmitted by Patriotic-Russian media Russia Today and Sputnik, as well as websites Srbin.info, FBReporter and the like.
In one of these articles, which arose after the visit of the DPS delegation and the Movement of the Dveri (the so-called patriotic bloc) on October 26th to Crimea, unlawfully annexed to the territory of Ukraine by Russia, which, not at all accidentally, happened at the exact time as the visit of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić to Moscow, it is said: "We are witnessing that Serbia has lost its sovereignty, political and economic stability in its fifteen-year integration process and turned into a colony managed by Washington and Brussels. [...] The electoral will of the citizens is corrupt, because the current leadership of Serbia in the pre-election campaign promised to preserve Kosovo and Metohija within Serbia, and on such platform received the support of voters. After coming to power, they have taken completely opposite steps, establishing the border between the southern Serbian province and Central Serbia and shutting down Serbian state institutions in the territory of Kosovo and Metohija." This delegation in Crimea announces that it is advocating that a referendum on entering the European Union be conducted in Serbia and is seeking support from the official Moscow. Because they support the occupation regime in the Crimea and that they illegally entered the territory of Ukraine, members of the delegation were placed on the list of criminals at the Center for Investigating Crimes against National Security of that country, while Vučić, in response to a question from a journalist in Moscow, clearly answers that "the referendum will not happen because DPS, Dveri or anyone else wants it, neither now nor otherwise.” After the visit to Crimea and after Prime Minister Vučić returned to Serbia, Sanda Rašković Ivić and Boško Obradović are staying in Moscow, where they are received by senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Duma of the Russian Federation. Only a day after Vučić responded to the delegation, from the ruling party of Vladimir Putin, whose formal leader was Dmitry Medvedev, arrives an unusual comment, published on the official website of the party, that United Russia is convinced that in the coming elections in Serbia, those forces which "were not afraid of the sanctions and visited Crimea" will win.
Targets for which pro-Russian organizations and paramedia fought on the ground in Montenegro itself, political support came from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which issued two statements on the occasion of the protest in Montenegro. In the second, statement which has more serious tone, dated October 27th, 2015, it reads: "As for Russia, we are very concerned, not because of the free choice that is to be made by the Montenegrin people, but because of the excessive force that the Montenegrin authorities used to quiet peaceful protests. [...] They are deeply surprised by the unconfirmed statement by Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, who accused Russia of provoking protests in Podgorica, encouraging the conflict of the opposition forces with the police." This statement is essentially the opposite of an article published earlier in the Moscow opposition newsletter Komersant , and whose parts were conveyed by the Serbian agency Beta, which states that the protests in Podgorica have became violent and that it would now be illogical for Moscow to provide even a moral support to these protests. The article describes in detail how and at what moment the demonstrations became violent, highlighting the role of prominent DF individuals persuaded the mass hooligans to cause disorder. Although the original title of the Russian article is "Overturn Prevented - Unrests Stopped at the Accession to Parliament", the Serbian site of B92 entitles its report "It's illogical that Moscow supports protests in Montenegro," , which, when withdrawn from the context, acts as a negative response to the charges of Montenegrin state leadership that the case is just the opposite: "The statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry that expressed concern over the alleged excessive use of force against "peaceful demonstrators" only confirms the justification of Prime Minister Milo Đukanović's statement about Russia's involvement in protests against NATO."
The day after the removal of the tent in the St. Petar Cetinjski Boulevard, that is, the day before the pro-chetnik offenders threw stones at the police, broke the windows and attacked the Pink M TV building, and ten days before the second announcement from Russia on the site of the Russkoye Slovo (Русское слово), which, as a sub-newspaper is published periodically in the daily newspaper Politika, which was edited by Ljiljana Smajlović at that time (also the president of the aforementioned Association of Journalists of Serbia), on October 17th, two indicative comments appear, which aim to announce and stimulate what will happen in the streets of Podgorica – by Director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Research (RISI) Leonid Reshetnikov and Leonid Kalashnikov, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee for Foreign Policy. The first of them, former intelligence officer, a good connoisseur of opportunities in Montenegro connected with the top of the Serbian Orthodox Church, is convinced that the Montenegrin authorities will continue to persecute all those who advocate for the independent policy of Montenegro against NATO, but that their measures will encounter the strong resistance of the people: "I am sure of that. Will it lead to an armed conflict - it's hard to say now. But it can safely be said that the Montenegrins will not want to live under the authority of this dictator. And the situation will certainly be tight."
As a sign of gratitude for advocating for the goals of the SPC (Serbian Orthodox Church), Patriarch Irinej awarded the Reshetnikov with the Order of the Holy Emperor Constantine in April 2014, while Metropolitan Amfilohije Radović spoke at the promotion of the RISI Director's book under the suggestive title "Return to Russia". With the approval of the SPC supreme commanders, Reshetnikov said: "Đukanović is a great traitor of the historical memory of our people. Never in the history of the Serbian people, and the Montenegrin people are part of the Serbian people, was it against Russia."
Though slightly restrained, Kalashnikov, on the same note, speaks of how a nation that was once inseparable from the Serbs suddenly became naive and that the stopping of the protests in Montenegro undoubtedly leads to the Ukrainian and Georgian scenarios: "Our Montenegrin partners" (as we used to call them) have gotten carried away a little with their development vectors in the direction of the West, and this enthusiasm never seems to surcease."
On the Russian-owned website Sputnik, whose editor Ljubinka Milinčić did not take down from national television stations such as RTS, B92 and Pink during the Vučić’s visit to Moscow, but also the cable channel N1, right on the eve of protests scheduled for October 24th, when a violent demolition of power was attempted with the entry of violent demonstrators into the Assembly, a series of texts by Vladimir Sudar (former journalist of Reporter and current member of the Supervisory Board of IJAS (The Independent Journalists' Association of Serbia)) and Nenad Zorić under the headlines "Milo’s desperate moves" and "Why is there a general impression that Milo is leaving" October 22nd; "Is Montenegrin October 5th in progress" on October 23; and then "How Milo Ended His Career", from October 26th. Each of these reports attempts to make them seem meaningless and make fun of the Montenegrin leadership allegations that the anti-NATO protests in Podgorica are helping parastatal, clerical structures in Serbia, gathered around the party that had been until recently led by Vojislav Koštunica, and through them from Russia as it is done on October 23rd, in Politika, with the text of the indicative title "Why Koštunica is guilty of the protests according to Đukanović", in whose first sentences, was a notorious lie that the Montenegrin prime minister accused Vojislav Koštunica of being responsible for demonstrations, although he used his name only as the personification of those political forces that come from clerical, pro-russian and anti-Western layers.
One of the signatories of this was the journalist Biljana Baković, while the key interlocutor in the article is the historian of the radical nationalist orientation Čedomir Antić from the Advanced Club, one of the followers of the ideology of Dobrica Ćosić and the advocate of the merging of Republika Srpska with Serbia as a "war booty". Disinformation on the fact that Đukanović marked personally Koštunica as a logistic and mastermind of protests, on November 4th, 2015, the head of the Pressing program on TV N1, Amir Zukić, also uses. Aleksandar Vučić, who was one of the guests in the show, rejected such a thesis, which was immediately conveyed by the tabloid Kurir as some kind of key proof that Milo Đukanović and the pro-government Montenegrin media, who did not say that, were wrong, all in order to postpone the placed misinformation during "reporting" about the protests.
Attempts to destroy the constitutional-legal order in Montenegro
The fact Russia does not limit its efforts to the hybrid war against the pro-Western policy of the Montenegrin authorities solely on funds from the "source of soft power" is evident, one year later, when the Russian secret service attempted to organize a coup in Podgorica in conjunction with Serbian nationalists. According to official allegations from the investigation, former commander of the Serbian Gendarmerie Bratislav Dikić, along with nineteen Serbian citizens, was arrested on the night between October 15 and 16, 2016, in Montenegro on suspicion of having participated in the creation of a criminal organization with the aim of committing criminal work of terrorism. According to the document of the Special Prosecutor's Office of Montenegro, he was supposed to keep together other members of the organization, formerly recruited by Aleksandar Sinđelić, a member of the ravnogorski, clerical-fascist movement from Serbia, under the orders of two Russian nationalists - Eduard Vladimirovic Shirkov and Vladimir Nikolaevich Popov – with whom, Sinđelić, a volunteer in the ranks of the secessionist forces in Ukraine, met on September 23rd the same year in Moscow. According to the revealed plan, Dikić and others together with demonstrators who were the leaders of the opposition Democratic Front had previously called to gather in front of the National Assembly, welcome election results and express their dissatisfaction, as it was announced in advance that the elections were being stolen, they intended to in 23 hours in uniforms of the SAJ infiltrate the Assembly and cause a turmoil, firing at assembled demonstrators, who would then assume the Assembly in the revolt due to confirmation of already established propaganda about overstepping the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ authority during street protests a year earlier.
For the delivery of weapons, which amount to about 200 thousand Euros were financed by two Russian citizens who are, as it would appear, the members of the Russian Military Intelligence Service (GRU), Sinđelić has hired Mirko Velimirović from Zubin Potok, who was supposed to transfer it from Kosovo to Montenegro, which, due to complications, did not happen, at the last moment, deciding to contact the Police Directorate and report the participants who were familiar to him. According to the prosecutor's statement, another group of terrorists was organized from Danilovgrad, with the aim of ensuring the undisturbed effect of Dikić's group in the Assembly, preventing with the use of a helicopter drone to shoot the terrain, any attempt by members of the state organs of Montenegro to move from any direction towards Assembly and rectify the incident.
Although in the realization of the plan, which included the intention to assassinate the Montenegrin Prime Minister, Milo Đukanović, as well, certain politicians from DF were supposed to participate, it was precisely this coalition that immediately issued a statement that the regime advertised by the Prosecution during the duration of the election silence influenced the outcome of the election and caused panic among the citizens, and that it was a fictitious "coup" directed by Đukanović's "informal media advisor", Vladimir Popović, claiming that Dikić was a close friend of his. This was a signal that other, interest-related media, assume the default setting. So, the Serbian Telegraph, a nationalist tabloid from Serbia, the day after the elections, where Đukanović's Democratic Party of Socialists took away the convincing victory, wrote on October 17th, 2016, "Milo's great election lie, invented Serbian terrorists to scare the voters: Arrested Little Legija!"; attached to it is also a part in which it is claimed that Đukanović paid voters 150 to 250 Euros to vote for him. On the same day, Blic asks "For whose account was Dikić acting on?”, only that tomorrow's cover page would say "DIKIĆ ACTED AS A TERRORIST FOR 100.000 EUROS: retired General of Gendarmerie was hired by the state top of Montenegro", thus giving an answer to the previously rhetorically raised question. Nationalist printed media headlines followed Blic's example: that " Thaçi through Dikić fixed Milo’s victory," the tabloid Alo! for the Serbian telegraph, however, "Milo gave 100,000 Euros to Little Legija to act as a terrorist"; while Ratko Dmitrović’s Večernje novosti writes "A trap for Dikić set up by Milo.”
On the 19th of October, there are no more dilemmas - Prime Minister Đukanović is on the front page of Blic, and the inscription "Milo’s victories by Beba’s recipe", while the text is equipped with photographs by Vladimir Popović, marked "spin doctor without shame" and "hell chef". Serbian telegraph brings new titles: "Medojević: Mafia paid for Milo's victory," and a day later "Dirty Jobs by Milo's Advisor: Beba Packing the Terrorist Attack for Putin and Vučić", with the proposal to urgently expel the ambassador of Montenegro from Serbia. The range of such propaganda is testified by the title of October 24th, when some transcripts of the conversation with Sinđelić leaked: "Milo's terrible shame, Dikić's tongue cut out: He cannot speak except on Đukanović's false recordings," where Dikić's brother Dragan, along with leader of the Montenegrin New Serbian Democracy, Andrija Mandić’s, states that the former commander of the Gendarmerie "root of the tongue has been removed" three years earlier and that he "barely speaks indistinctly" - despite the easily verifiable fact that Bratislav Dikić, on June 22nd, 2014, was a guest on TV Pink and spoke completely normally. No media during this campaign, which lost on the blade only from the moment when Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić at a press conference in the Government of Serbia on October 24th, 2016, confirmed that preparations were being made in the territory of Serbia for terrorist activity in Montenegro, that money and uniforms were found, and that Đukanović was being tracked by the latest devices - he did not provide details that in early November 2013, at the time he was still an official at Ministry of Internal Affairs, Dikić was also accused of paramilitary activities in the anti-election staff. in the north part of Kosovska Mitrovica, on the occasion of breaking the ballot boxes at the polling station of the elementary school "Sveti Sava".
Only five days after he gave evidence at the press conference in the Government of Serbia about the monitoring of Prime Minister Milo Đukanović with elements of foreign nationality (two Russian citizens) regarding the preparation of a terrorist act on the election night in Podgorica on October 16th of that year and that an unnamed senior official The Criminal Police Directorate regularly provided operational information to the officers of the foreign embassies in Belgrade, the news revealed that weapons were found in the suburban Jajinci neighborhood, in the forest near the road where the vehicle must slow down, not far from the parental home of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić. This event takes place just two days after a very dramatic and intense conference, which abounds with content that is usually denied to the public, Nikolaj Petrušev, the chief of the Russian security services, was ceremoniously received in Belgrade, while somewhat parallel with that, two Russian citizens, members of the Russian military security services, Eduard Vladimirovich Shirkov and Vladimir Nikolaevich Popov, left Serbia. Only on November 20th, with the question to the prime minister of Serbia, Milomir Marić, the journalist of the Ćirilica show, revealed the details of the intercepted talks between Russian citizens and a future witness in the process against the terrorists, Aleksandar Sinđelić, that after the planned execution of Đukanović in Montenegro, he openly advocated removal of Vučić in Serbia.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Anti-Đukanović and Anti-Vučić-based media continue their campaign in two basic directions. Those pro-Western oriented are moving through the ridicule and relativization of published information on endangering the security of the Serbian prime minister and the attempted coup in neighboring Montenegro, while those other pro-Russian oriented try really hard to invoke the suspicion of the official indictment of the Special Prosecutor's Office in Podgorica. This is done primarily through the ridicule of the offered evidence and the public denial of any connection between the Russian state and the unconstitutional actions of the Montenegrin opposition, which at one point included even denying the very existence of Russian citizens participating in the plot and whose identity was established in the investigation.
Pro-Russian politicians in Serbia, including former President Tomislav Nikolić, actively participated in the relativization of events in Montenegro, who, just a month after the critical events in Podgorica, declared that Montenegro was a state created by the Serb people. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Nikolić stated that he has never heard any authority from Montenegro saying that Russia was involved in redefining the electoral will of citizens, but that it was only about speculations that represented a dangerous claim, especially in the context of events that it was preceded by and open pressures on Montenegro, which came primarily from Moscow and from nationalist circles in Belgrade. This statement followed the statement by Reshetnikov, who announced the destructive demonstrations and the change of power in Montenegro, and openly urged demonstrators to attack the Montenegrin Assembly and forcefully take over. In that period, the statement of former Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin followed in which he threatened Montenegro with the Ukrainian scenario in case of official entry into NATO, which was all part of an orchestrated attack on Montenegro.
Gennady Sisoyev: An attempt to stop the process of European integrations of the region is underway
Commenting on the background of the creation of pro-Russian media and organizations in the Western Balkans, correspondent of Moscow Komersant from this region, Gennady Sisoyev told Antidot that it is clear that this is the official strategy of acting of the Russian state. "We have been witnesses in recent years that propaganda through the media is a key soft source of power that Russia increasingly uses throughout the world, and especially in those regions where it tries to retain and expand its influence. This is somewhat understandable given that, in economic and ideological terms, Russia cannot afford to pair the EU and the West, which is why it relies on propaganda as the cheapest, but in the age of the Internet, a widely available and widespread soft source of power," Sisoyev said.
According to him, this is also a key reason why the official Moscow invests a lot of money in the formation of media and organizations under its control, but also why this source of soft power has become a key weapon in weighing the forces with the West. In this regard, Sisoyev emphasizes that the Balkans are very fertile ground for the spread of Russian propaganda and for the adoption of messages emitted by them, since there is a prevailing pro-Russian attitude in the region, as well as a emphasized anti-Western and anti-NATO mood among the population.
"When we assess the impact of the mentioned structure in the region, it should not be underestimated or overestimated. The influence of a large number of internet, electronic and print media is far greater than the impact of organizations, as their reach is greater by sending messages through informative activity. But at the same time, their influence is far less than the invested resources in their operation, and therefore it should not be overestimated. It is evident primarily because of the fact that a large part of the population is pro-Russian oriented, which is a fertile ground for the adoption and spreading of posted messages, but the question is how much it can affect the official authorities that are devoted to and advocate for European integrations" he said.
Speaking about the role and reporting of pro-Russian media during the "coup d'etat" affair in Montenegro, Sisoyev says that the site IN4S, the newspaper Dan and the Belgrade Sputnik branch, were striking fists that tried to amortize and relativize the significance of what happened in Podgorica . "In all possible ways, these media dealt with the scorn of a formal version of what had happened and which was investigated by the official Montenegrin authorities. This was done in several basic ways: by introducing suspicion into the official version of the event, mocking the collected evidence presented to the public, placing alternative versions of the event without any evidence to support these versions, purely for the sake of doubting what actually happened, and all to open spins like the assertion that the identified members of Russian services in general do not exist even though their existence was not denied even by the official Moscow. Since the outbreak of the affair, in the general public, by the opponents of Milo Đukanović, 3-4 same versions of the events have been placed, and exactly those that were made through the pro-Russian media, which clearly indicates the influence they have and what their real role is in this region" said the Balkan correspondent for Komersant.
He adds that the key question in the functioning of the pro-Russian media in the Balkans is their potential for destabilizing the region. In this sense, Sisoyev states that they, by themselves, do not have the power to destabilize the region, but they have the power to help those social and political forces that are interested in it. "In this sense, especially neuralgic points in the region are Macedonia due to the announced accelerated admission to NATO, Bosnia, first with the intention of preventing its internal reform and improvement of the functioning of that state, and then, along with Serbia, to prevent the continuation of Euro-Atlantic integrations. When it comes to Kosovo, the pro-Russian media are obviously trying to prevent or hinder normalization of relations between Belgrade and Priština, and therefore progress both in Serbia and Kosovo towards EU membership, in the case of Kosovo and NATO membership," Sisoyev said. He concluded that the strategic goal of Russia's operation through the paramedia structures in the Western Balkans is to prevent the Euro-Atlantic integration of the region by destabilizing, where the official Moscow sees room for retention and eventual expansion of its influence in this part of Europe.
Even after joining NATO, Russia does not give up on the destabilization of Montenegro
After an unsuccessful attempt at coup and open confrontation between Russian state services and their mercenaries with the official state institutions of Montenegro, in the smallest Balkan state, new pro-Russian media were formed as part of forming a wider front against the accession of official Podgorica to NATO. Thus, the pro-Russian media block in Montenegro and the Balkans as a whole received a new impetus and a new momentum, and analysts who unambiguously establish its existence differ only in the estimates whether it is an authentic local reaction to a new intensification of the conflict between the great powers or, in the middle of a well-organized enterprise of the Russian secret services.
It is interesting that the lengthy text about the new wave of pro-Russian media in Montenegro was published by Podgorica's Vijesti, the same daily newspaper, paid by Russian money, which hand in hand with the same media participated in the campaign of demolition of pro-Western Montenegrin authorities. When it became clear that the pro-Western government in Podgorica took the lead in competing with the pro-Russian parainteligence and the same media structures, and won the membership of the NATO country, Vijesti changed the side overnight and began to classify its, until recently, allies in the pro-Russian media block . On that occasion, the news only published the text originated in the CIN CG kitchen, a false media owned by Miodrag Miško Perović and Željko Ivanović, who are also owners of the media system Vijesti. In order to give some kind of legitimacy to this enterprise, Vijesti, or more precisely CIN CG, BIRN was also included in the research, also one of the paramedia financed by Western foundations.
Listing its former allies, Vijesti found that at least during the first half of 2017, after Montenegro had been admitted to NATO, at least five pro-Russian oriented websites were launched in Podgorica. These sites are increasingly popular, active on social networks and quoted in the leading media in Montenegro, and in their daily activities convey content that promotes Kremlin's official policy against NATO and Montenegrin authorities, and support one of the opposition parties of Serbs in Montenegro.
The founders of these sites are not Russian media magnates or officials in charge of spreading Russian propaganda, but local journalists, representatives of pro-Russian organizations or sympathizers of the Montenegrin opposition. From the viewpoint of the organizational structure of these paramedia, it is possible to conclude that Russia does not invest significant funds in the army of "bots" and hackers, since in Montenegro there is no need for it. The founders of these websites say that they do not have many employees and that they often have problems paying their associates, but nevertheless they see Russia as a great rescuer. Still, they insist that absolutely no Russian money is coming to their cash register.
One of the newly opened pro-Russian portals in Montenegro is "Ujedinjenje" founded by former Montenegrin MP Dobrilo Dedeić who claims for his project that it was founded by pure enthusiasm and conviction aimed at supporting the unity of Serbia, Montenegro and Republic Srpska, which according to the owner of this site, represent one ethnic area that should have even more tighter ties with Russia. An identical idea is promoted by a dozen similar right-wing sites that were launched in Belgrade in 2015. and 2016. Montenegrin and Serbian websites regularly exchange content, and the same contributors often write for multiple sites at the same time. All of them, however, use the contents written in Serbian by the leading Russian media - the Sputnik agency, the news media NewsFront and Russia Beyond.
In addition to the Ujedinjenje, the latest members of the pro-Russian media block in Montenegro are also the sites Sedmica, Princip, Nova Riječ and Magazin. Most of them have their accounts on the social network VKontakte, a version of Facebook that is used by most Russians where content is shared and promoted in Serbian.
Among them, according to their influence the ones that especially stand out, Sedmica, Ujedinjenje and Princip are becoming more and more popular. Sedmica was founded eight months ago by Montenegrin journalist Donko Rakočević. Thanks to interviews with Serbian and Russian politicians, academics and artists, this site quickly became popular among members of the Serbian community and politicians and supporters of the Democratic Front. Rakočević personally wrote most of the comments and interviews with opposition leaders.
The website Ujedinjenje started its work in July, promoting the nationalist attitudes of its founders, Robert Žižić and Dobrilo Dedeić. Zizić is a former member of the Montenegrin branch of the Serbian Radical Party of Vojislav Šešelj, while Dedeić is a former member of the Serbian People's Party in Montenegro. One of the reasons for the launch of the site was Dedeić's dissatisfaction with the Russian embassy in Montenegro, which he said was not promoting enough Russian interests and anti-NATO and pro-Serbian position. Robert Žižić is a senior officer of the hardliner Balkan Cossack army, a branch of the Russian traditional military movement. He also founded the ultra-nationalist movement Serbian Protection Committee in Montenegro, and he thinks that "Russia is the only true natural ally of Montenegro".
Vladimir Vuković, a Montenegrin journalist and contributor to several pro-Russian online publications in Belgrade, is at the forefront of the information portal Princip. He regularly writes about "discrimination of the Serb community in Montenegro", about NATO and about relations between Russia and Montenegro, and claims for his site to function thanks to "pure enthusiasm" of him and his friends. With a special page dedicated to news and analysis from Russia, Princip mainly deals with anti-NATO topics and says: “Princip tells what others are silent about!". In addition to news about the activities of Montenegrin opposition parties, anti-NATO groups and Russian analysts, this site also regularly quotes ultra right-winged organizations from Serbia, such as Zavetnik.
One of the forerunners and first Russian paramedia structures in Montenegro is the IN4S portal. It is believed that this media is close to the Democratic Front because some of its associates are members or supporters of this coalition. The editor and founder of the IN4S website, Gojko Raičević, said that this newsletter was made out of the need to promote and protect Serbian interests in Montenegro, as well as to respond to the "aggressive propaganda of the United States that spreads through Montenegrin media."
As it has already been mentioned, Raičević is at the top of the anti-NATO coalition called ‘No to war-no to NATO’ consisting of a few non-government organizations. During the presidential elections in the USA his website IN4S started a campaign gathering all Serbs to vote for Donald Trump because he was “a friend of Russians and Serbs”. IN4S became one of the leading electronic media, publishing the insider information of the pro-Russian parties. Its articles and alleged research related to the attempted state coup are quoted by other local and regional media, while it regularly publishes interviews with Moscow’s academicians and Kremlin’s officials. IN4S’s interviews and articles are often mentioned at the trial over the attempted state coup, which started in May 2017, while the defense lawyers request from the prosecutor’s office and the court to research the findings and the claims of the website about the state’s role in what they call “the fake case”.
Though founded in Serbia, pro-Russian and right wing websites such as Vostok, Fakti, Kremlin.rs, SrbinINFO, Veseljenska, Nacional.rs and many more, are quite popular with the pro-Russian public in Montenegro. “Their editorial staff is small, consisting of a few people who mostly write for free. They are against the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, whom they see as a friend of the West and believe he might betray Kosovo,” says one of the associates of the websites in Belgrade who insisted on remaining anonymous.
Their publications circulate on the social media where these are commented and also shared by the Montenegrin local websites, while they publish the content of the Montenegrin websites and Russian media in Serbian language with their offices in Belgrade such as SerbINFO, Vaseljenske, Srbi na okupu.
Websites Fakti and Vostok have a pro-Russian editorial policy. Vostok which describes itself as “news from Russia in Serbian” thoroughly covers the events in Montenegro in its column “Region” and the news is mostly concentrated on Serbian Orthodox Church and the opposition’s Democratic Front. In August this year Vostok published the comment of the opposition’s leader Andrija Mandić who claimed that there is ethnic, religious and linguistic discrimination of Serbs in Montenegro.
According to the report of the European Parliament in July 2017, Russian news agency Sputnik came to Belgrade in 2015 and ever since it has been the leading source for the media in Serbia and Montenegro, often displaying an extremely anti-Western content. The same year to Belgrade arrived a highly-influential Moscow’s newspaper- Rossiyskaya Gazeta, which is printed in Belgrade under the title Ruska reč (Russian Word) by the influential daily Politika and magazine Nedeljnik, and during the last one year by the best-sold Montenegrin daily Dan too.
Elaborating the decision to print the edition Ruska reč in Serbian, the chief editor of Dan, Nikola Marković (Vanja alović's husband) claims that the Russian side initiated the partnership project wherein Ruska reč provides the content, while the Montenegrin newspaper is in charge of printing and distribution. Rossiyskaya Gazeta created the Serbian version of the website Russia beyond in 2016. During the recent months this website intensified reports form Montenegro and hired additional associates. Deputy CEO of the daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Eugene Abov stated in the interview for the Croatian daily Večernji list in July 2017, that the idea behind the project was to improve the “Russia’s image in the world and in the Balkans”.
The research of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies made in February 2017, focusing on the Russian informative activities at the Western Balkans, suggested that the Russians “obviously spotted a chance” and founded the media in Serbian language with the operative center in Belgrade. The content from sources such as news agencies Sputnik and Russia Beyond Headlines are almost on a daily basis published by the Serbian, Montenegrin and Bosnian-Serb media. “They use an extremely anti-NATO and anti-EU tone. Also, their credibility is often suspicious in nature, at the best case,” it is claimed in the report.
Another research, this time made by Center for International Media Assistance in 2016, dealing with the Russian break through into the media, showed an increase in the number of the registered local media in Montenegro and Serbia, as well as in the amount of the content sponsored by Russia in the local newspapers. “Under the Russia’s influence, the media contribute to the incomplete image of the world, where the news is created based on the Russia’s political and economic interests, while people in Serbia and Montenegro are served with less and less trustworthy information,” suggests the report.
The already mentioned Kaheton-a website belonging to the Russian tycoon Konstantin Malfeev also contributes to the united local voices praising and celebrating the whole-Slavic brotherhood.
Republika Srpska- the Russian strategic base of the influence in the Balkans
The regional lineup of the Russian quasi-media gathered around those who acted on the territory of Republika Srpska, demonstrated what Sisoev already pointed out; that apart from Macedonia and Kosovo, Bosnia is another key rickety spot in the region which might be used by Russia in its attempts to destabilize and prevent any sequel to Euro-Atlantic integrations of this part of Europe.
Regarding the dangers of such intentions and acts performed in order to fulfill them, a Russian journalist and reporter in the Balkans, Yuliya Petrovskaya, stated for Antidot that the pro-Russian media in the Balkans is a part of propaganda, developed by the Russian government in the recent years in many countries of the world (especially in the West and around Russia). “Such ‘media’ publish false information, fake experts’ opinions, rumors and the most extreme attitudes lacking any proof or argument. Firstly, such propaganda is used for the promotion of the Russian government’s politics, the promotion of the Russian power, while exaggerating the Russian influence in the world, as well as the support to the conservative, anti-western, anti-European, anti-liberal powers and the support to concrete personas whom they consider partners in the context of the promotion of ‘Russian interests’, as they are understood by the smaller group of people governing Russia,” stated the Russian Service of Radio Free Europe’s reporter in the Balkans.
She pointed out that when it comes to the “pro-Russian media” in the Balkans, one must bear in mind that there are no quality media in the region that would offer a realistic image of the modern Russia and its diverse society, economic development, societal problems and culture, Russian public interest and Russian influence in the Balkans and in the world. In such “media” there is no space for the quality information or serious discussion of the experts regarding the mentioned topic.
“By using such media, the Russian government offers support to the conservative powers in the Balkans (no matter their number or their real influence in the society) if those powers promote friendship with Russia, Euro-Asian integrations and neutrality as an alternative to the pro-Western course. Even though Russia supports Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign country and respects its integrity and public institutions, simultaneously it supports everything coming from Republika Srpska, that being the policy of undermining the public institutions. This is often illustrated through Russia’s different opinion at the meetings of Peace Implementation Council (e.g. the one regarding the referendum about the Day of Republika Srpska), as well as the reports of the pro-Russian media,” states Petrovskaya.
She adds that the “pro-Russian media” acts and organization often support the politics of Milorad Dodik, primarily in order to obstruct the European and Euro-Atlantic agenda. “Dodik is not the only one, but he is one of the most important and highly-influential politicians in the Balkans, who openly supports the Kremiln’s current politics (including the annexation of Crimea). That is significant for Russia because in the conditions of the crisis with the West, there are no many politicians or countries (especially westward of Russia) that would support the risky and non-transparent politics of Putin,” claims our interlocutor.
However, she points out that the Russia’s influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina (that is Republika Srpska) is often exaggerated. “Russia in not present enough in the Balkans in a military sense, this region is far away and is not on Russia’s list of priorities, its economic influence is insignificant to be considered the direct trigger of power, the trade exchange between the Balkans’ countries and Russia is way smaller than the trade with the European Union. Russia sells energy products, but does not have products countries in the Balkans would be interested in. In the context of deep economic crisis and sanctions of the West, Moscow cannot offer serious financial help, cheap loans or new investments to Bosnia and Herzegovina or other countries in the region. Thus, in such conditions it is difficult to project political influence,” states Petrovskaya.
Speaking of who are the leading and most influential pro-Russian media and organizations that act in Republika Srpska, our interlocutor confirmed that the agency Sputnik is the main source of the propaganda in the Balkans, including Republika Srpska too. “I don’t think pro-Russian media in Republika Srpska are important. Those are mostly marginal groups, such as ‘Zavetnici’, so called ‘Cossacks’, or ‘Night Wolves’ who are sanctioned and have no financial support coming from Russian state budget any more. Their acts contain much more anti-Americanism, primitivism and pure hate and much less potential for a political influence. The other thing is that the representatives of the organizations which promote reorientation towards Moscow (which is not possible due to economical, geographical, safety and political reasons), have access to Russian media and certain public gatherings no matter the real importance or the public interest of those,” stated the Russian Service of Radio Free Europe’s reporter in the Balkans.
By estimating the realistic influence of the pro-Russian media in the region, and whether they actually have the potential to cause or contribute to destabilization of the neuralgic points in the region (Macedonia, northern Kosovo and Bosnia & Herzegovina), our interlocutor says the following:
“In the face of relations crisis between Russia and the West, there were talks in Moscow about the necessity of a strong approach towards the region, and a greater engagement of Moscow as a humanitarian force. The pro-Kremlin propaganda labels the Balkans as a “frontline target”, but the question is what is the real influence of the pro-Russian media in the region? If we, let’s say, compare the number of readers and followers of certain media on social networks, we can easily see that ‘Sputnjik’ is not the most popular one, (way behind the Balkan Service RSE, and even more behind AJB).”
Petrovskaja further elaborates how in pro-Russian information space in the Balkans (as well as in governmental and conservative media in Russia), impressions of instability and of a big terrorist threat in the Balkans are being created, and even of the inevitable war as a direct consequence of the ‘bad politics of the West’. The situation in the region, (especially in Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo), is being shown as a definite proof of failed politics from Washington and Brussels, and the most common targets of Russian propaganda are the pro-Western oriented circles, Islamic fundamentalism and the Albanian factor which is viewed exclusively as a source of danger. That type of media often serves as a platform for the most conservative, nationalistic circles.
“I think that Kremlin is intentionally trying to strengthen the political tensions in the Balkans and bring back the atmosphere from the ‘90s, and not only through the media. However, Kremlin did not lay down the foundations for such tensions and atmosphere. Strong nationalistic rhetoric, absurd rumors, and all kinds of different myths are circling in the Balkans, even without the Russian influence. Still, the fact that Russia is allocating funds for rumors and disinformation, which serve to amplify the fear and interethnic intolerance, is something that definitely characterizes the politics of Moscow in this region”, Petrovskaja concluded.
Bosnia and Herzegovina – potentially the most dangerous hotspot in the region
Dženana Karup Druško also agrees that, after Montenegro and Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina is being targeted by pro-Russian, and now directly by Russian forces, which are intentionally causing problems in the Balkans and trying to destabilize the region, strengthen Russian influence and stop these countries on their path of Euroatlantic Integrations. In her article “Russian offensive on Bosnia and Herzegovina”, Dženana Karup Druško deals analytically with the growing Russian influence in the smaller entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. “What they are trying to do in Macedonia through diplomatic threats, (last month in Skopje, Russian ambassador ‘diplomatically” threatened that Macedonia in NATO can only be a Russian target, because Macedonia gaining NATO membership can cause “a serious damage to regional security”); what they tried to do in Montenegro when their covert operatives attempted a coup and an assassination of Milo Đukanović, that is what they are trying to do in Bosnia publically, judging by the actions of Valentina Matviyenko. This is confirmed by every speech, the Chairwoman of the upper house of the Federal Assembly of Russia held during her stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She also abused the government institutions by quite openly expressing the goals of Russian politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina which are: the shutting down of Office of the High Representative, strengthening of the entity, a Constitutional Court and The Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina reforms, open support to Republic of Srpska and to Milorad Dodik and stopping of Bosnia and Herzegovina on its path of Euroatlantic Integrations”, Karup Druško said in her analysis.
She also points out that Ognjen Tadić, who left SDS at the end of last year and founded Narodna stranka, said that Matviyenko came on his invitation, that Mladen Ivanić gave his support to her statements, and that Milorad Dodik decorated her. “It is clear that Matviyenko’s visit was very well planned and organized so as to offer support to pro-Serbian (pro-Russian) politics which is equally advocated by all leaders in RS. Who stands to benefit the most from her visit, the elections will show, but Russia will definitely gain something out of it”, it is stated in the article.
To the question of whether Macedonia, and especially Bosnia and Herzegovina, can resist the pro-Russian pressure, without entering the NATO, particularly if you have in mind, not only political but also economical influence which Russia achieved in the last couple of years in the region, from which not even Croatia is excluded, which could be seen plainly in the Agrokor affair, Karup Druško gives the following answer: “Russia, which participated in all of that (events that took place in Montenegro and Macedonia) through unofficial and diplomatic channels, judging by the actions of Matviyenko, has decided to interfere directly in the upcoming elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and assuming they learned from their failures in Macedonia and Montenegro, this time they will not leave everything to their covert operatives”.
Matviyenko used the platform at the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to harshly criticize the politics of the USA, and to claim that Montenegro was forced into NATO, even though half of its citizens were against that membership. At the same time, she also directly threatened Macedonia in case it decided to follow the same path as Montenegro, and in addition she clearly stated that Russia will not allow Bosnia and Herzegovina to continue its journey towards Euroatlantic Integrations.
“Strong reactions of some individuals ensued, announcements from the OHR and American embassy in Sarajevo, along with an information that Matviyenko is on American and European black list due to her engagement in annexation of Crimea. However, an apology from Dragan Čović (a member of Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina) to Matviyenko was quick to follow, due to ‘public’s reactions’?! As well as the decoration of Matviyenko by Milorad Dodik in Banja Luka, after the scandal which took place in Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Milorad Dodik explained that the decoration was earned because of Matviyenko’s ‘big role in development and strengthening of cooperation and political relations between Republic of Srpska and Russia, as well as for the immeasurable contribution in the struggle for physical and spiritual survival, affirmation and development of Republic of Srpska”, Dženana Karup Druško stated in her analysis.
She also reminded, that Dodik decorated Aleksandar Zaldostanov as well, the leader of the "Night wolves", which are on American black list due to multiple formations of paramilitary groups in Ukraine, during the time of conflict in this country. “Obviously, Milorad Dodik is surrounding himself with the very ‘best’ individuals from the American black list, which he needs for achieving his goals – further division of Bosnia and Herzegovina and obstruction of its Euroatlantic Integrations. After Matviyenko’s performance, all masks were down: Russia is interfering with Bosnia and Herzegovina elections in the most direct way possible, by associating itself with Milorad Dodik’s campaign, helped by the Dodik-Čović coalition”, it is stated in the analysis.
Karup Druško lastly points out, that Russia even before, as well as now, had the unconditional support of Milorad Dodik and the doors of Republic of Srpska wide open to it. If Dodik enters the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the official Moscow can count on an even bigger influence, seeing as the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina is in charge of foreign policy of Bosnia and Herzegovina, all international contracts, the security policy which encompasses all Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the Intelligence-Security Agency, which has been a target of all kinds of fabricated affairs for over a year now, because it presents a serious barrier to Russian machinations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the jeopardizing of national security.
“Dodik has been enforcing his pro-Russian politics for a very long time now, pushing the limits and testing the west-European politicians, who were (other than some mild reactions) generally unconcerned by the referendum in Republic of Srpska, presentation of the Armed Forces unit on the Day of Republic of Srpska, the negation of International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague verdicts, or in other words the negation of war crimes and genocide which took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the decorations of convicted war criminals, non-implementation of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina decisions, the walk of Russian Cossacks during the last general elections in Banja Luka, Dodik’s statement of how a Republic of Srpska is in fact a country on its own, the walks of Russian bikers throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dodik’s refusal to recognize Bosnia and Herzegovina as a valid country, warmongering rhetoric which is strongly reminiscent of the one from the ‘90s, nationalistic statements which are borderline hate speech and which cause further division inside the country’s society, strengthening and arming of the Republic of Srpska police, followed by threatening statements which seriously affect national security and peace. The USA were the only ones to put Dodik on their black list, and even though it was expected, similar actions were not made by the European Union”, it is concluded in the article.
The author also points out, that the work of Russian diplomatic and intelligence structures in Bosnia and Herzegovina, are of a particular concern, especially if you take into account that the equipment and personnel can be distributed via Banja Luka International Airport, without any obstruction or control by competent institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. “Russia obviously will not make the same mistake as they did with the coup in Montenegro, especially because now they have a direct, unobstructed entrance to Republic of Srpska, which is protected even from the control of Western intelligence services, and that on its own paves the way for the organization of even more dangerous things than the coup attempt in Montenegro”, Dženana Karup Druško concludes.
Srđan Šušnica, the political analyst from Banja Luka, shares a similar opinion on this topic, and he also adds that besides the constant support to the destabilization of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the entire region, pro-Russian influence is also manifested in the preparations of Republic of Srpska Government for long-term hybrid confrontation, which will have as its primary goal gaining maximum possible independence and acquiring as broad as possible spectrum of state’s ingerences. In his interview for the portal avangardia.ba,
Šušnica pointed out that, with the help of his Russian mentors, leader of the Republic of Srpska, Milorad Dodik directed his focus on strengthening the paradiplomatic network, the internal para-intelligence apparatus through which he enforces his ‘reign of terror’, all the while building something that is called ‘the internal army’. “In its, so-called, economical representative offices, the regime spends tens of millions of dollars on lobbying for political interests of Republic of Srpska, primarily for strengthening of military-defense and diplomatic capacities, but also for secession. The most impactful process at the moment is the militarization of the Republic of Srpska police”, Šušnica pointed out and also added:
“Since 2016, the Republic of Srpska police is sending their special units and future inspectors to training in Russia, and Russian inspectors, since 2014, are a common occurrence in Republic of Srpska. In Zalužani, on 55 hectares, a military-police base is opened, and it is being prepared to accept more than 800 people. U want more? If, to such militarized Republic of Srpska police, we add an increased presence of Russian instructors, liaison officers, and over 90 armed Russian Special Forces soldiers in Banja Luka in October 2014, along with parade demostrations of armed force, the militarization of Republic of Srpska veterans and other extreme organizations, then the field situation gets more complex and it strays even further away from Dayton Agreement. Pushing the pro-Russian separatist finger into the eyes of everyone in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in the region, is seriously breaching multiple points and obligations from Dayton Agreement document.”
Speaking of increasingly widespread Russification of the Republic of Srpska system, and its goals, Šušnica points out that the Republic of Srpska Government has intentionally colonized itself with Russian investments, with Russian soft power and the element of safety which made the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s smaller entity, a de facto Russian platform in its own way.
Providing the answer to the question of whether Milorad Dodik is really ready, with the Russian support, to push Bosnia and Herzegovina into conflict, Šušnica says that the leader of the Republic of Srpska has secured all the preconditions, with the help of Russia, to initiate a some sort of destabilization of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the entire region. “That does not have to be a secession, it is enough if Dodik tries to return defense and intelligence affairs jurisdiction to Republic of Srpska, through referendum, if he proclaims a Republic of Srpska a country on its own, and if he continues even more openly to militarize the police, radicalize the society, breach the Dayton Agreement package and politically persecute the opposition.”, Srđan Šušnica warned in his interview, published by avangardia.ba on May the 2nd of this year.
Even though, the use of soft power by countries, which include the great powers, to promote their own interests is unquestionably legitimate, when it comes to exercising that type of influence in the West Balkans region, it is of crucial importance if the goal in such case is to sustain and promote regional peace, or if, however, the interests of external forces are to achieve some sort of gain in the expense of the Balkans nations’ interest.
By observing the politically neutral economical-investment litmus of interests which the great powers have in the Balkans, it is easy to spot the dominant presence of the European Union countries in the area of investments and foreign trade, particularly of Germany and Italy, which are because of that, by nature of things, most in favor of sustaining the political stability and the predictability of political processes in this part of the world. A significant amount of foreign trade takes place between the countries of the region, and also countries which are a part of CEFTA, while USA and Russia only partake in small percentage of the foreign trade exchange, with the difference of USA being quite an important investor, and also one of the biggest donators for socially useful projects in the region.
For that very reason of low level of economic interests, which are reflected in the small amount of direct investments and negligible participation in the foreign trade exchange with the region, and also because of the expressed anti-Western and anti-NATO sentiments which exist in Serbia, Russia has positioned itself as an external factor with exceptionally big destructive potential for the region. Its position is to a great extent reminiscent of the position and role which Soviet Union played in the Middle East region, in the 20th century, during the ‘70s and ‘80s. The fact that, in the above mentioned time period, Kremlin was capable of causing and inciting crisis in that region, but not capable of initiating and supporting, in a constructive way, any type of positive process, was used by American President Nixon and Presidents which came after him, to start a peace process, through the construction of ‘architecture of peace’, by firstly pulling out Egypt and Jordan from the Soviet orbit and then continuing that peace process between Israel and Arab countries.
Thanks to the fact that the Balkans is surrounded by the security ring of NATO today, and is under the security umbrella of this organization which no longer stands as a military-political bloc, but as a system of collective security which in itself incorporates different levels of integrations and cooperation of all regional factors, it becomes clear that all development perspectives of the region lie in the continuation and further deepening of its Euro-Atlantic Integrations. This conclusion becomes even more relevant, if one takes into account that this region is of only secondary geostrategic importance for Russia, and a potential place where Russia could demonstrate its enormous destructive potential if it decides to use this area as a cheap currency in their global showdown with the West. In that regard, Russian paramedia structures and organizations have a special role in inciting international tensions, hatred and sparks for any future conflicts, with the only goal, in the Western Balkans, of abusing the complex local situation to achieve the interests of Russian Federation.
This article is sponsored by NATO
* The views expressed in this article are the responsibility of the author and do not reflect the views of donors.