Russian Influence in the Balkans: Goals and Methods



 Russia has never hidden that it has a special interest in the Balkans. Aside from a continuation of Soviet policy, what else is hidden behind this interest? How will geostrategic dynamics in the Balkans and beyond Moscow's attention to the region be affected? The NATO Center for Strategic Communication held a discussion on this topic. VOA has prepared a summary:

Although there is a lot of talk about Russian influence in the Balkans, this influence remains much more abstract compared to the connections that the region has with Euro-Atlantic structures, says Professor Dimitar Bechev:

"The Western Balkans, the countries that were included in the former Yugoslavia, are expected to one day be included in the European Union and NATO, while Russia does not have a similar strategy for these countries. "Even in the most fantastic dreams of Russian nationalists, Serbia and other Balkan countries will never become part of an economic or organizational pact where Russia will support them financially or play a role comparable to that of Western structures."

The Kremlin's focus on the Balkans is ultimately aimed at the West and Moscow's interest in thwarting and diverting long-term plans from Western alliances, says Professor Bechev.

"Russia's strategy towards the Balkans is in line with Russia's relations with the West," he said. When these relations go well for pragmatic reasons, Russia does not go too far against Western policies. "When clashes erupt, Russia tends to see the Balkans as Achilles' heel for the Western Alliance, a region where it can exert its influence and make indirectly things difficult for NATO and the European Union." Bechev.

Russian Influence in the Balkans: Goals and Methods

Researcher Bechev points out that while developments in the Balkans are not the primary focus of Russian foreign policy, Moscow's maneuvers have concrete implications for Balkan politics, especially when local actors try to use Moscow's support to demonstrate force.

Political leaders in Belgrade and Serbian politicians in the Bosnian Serb Republic use regularly ties with Moscow to strengthen their positions.

Moscow exerts its influence by providing Balkan countries with military equipment and technology, but also through an intensive information campaign, such as through the state news agency Sputnik, which operates in the Balkans:

Milan Jovanović is a researcher at the Atlantic Council in Montenegro. His organization has studied the Kremlin's influence on public opinion in the territory of the former Yugoslavia:

"These disinformation campaigns, these media groups that spread such campaigns, do not simply aim to spread a certain theory. They also aim to undermine the population's trust in the real media and in the democratic system," said Mr. Jovanović.

Another problem, says Mr Jovanović, is that these disinformation campaigns are echoed in local media broadcasts in several Balkan countries. This happens in countries where the media serves the purposes of the political class in these countries. In countries where the ruling political class benefits from Russian support, the mainstream media echoes Russian propaganda, he says.

"We found a clear link between the goals of a country's foreign policy and the reaction of the dominant media in that country. This is seen in Serbia, in the Serbian Republic of Bosnia. But if you analyze pro-Western countries like Montenegro, Bosnia or Albania, you see a big difference in the reaction or radiation of Russian propaganda.

There is no simple way to cut off Russian influence, experts say. They recommend paying more attention to educating the population for critical thinking. Of particular importance, they added, is the unchanging commitment of Euro-Atlantic bodies to the Western Balkans as the best guarantee that these countries will maintain their course towards the West.
Russian Influence in the Balkans: Goals and Methods Russian Influence in the Balkans: Goals and Methods Thursday, May 14, 2020 Rating: 5
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