European Western Balkans

Russian Interference in Kosovo – Kosovo Serbs as a primary tool of influence?

Photo: AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu via Tanjug

Kosovar Center for Security Studies recently published a report on the Russian presence in Kosovo and how the Russian influence is exercised internally, but also in regard to the country’s international status. The report is part of a growing interest of research community in Europe on how Russia manages to advance its agenda and exercise its influence in European countries.

As described,the report is oriented towards developing a map of evidence and challenges to the political system of Kosovo, and proceeds with a chronological historical analysis as a means to identify what has shaped critical international decisions towards Kosovo and beyond.

Accordingly, the research states that Russia continues to pose a serious challenge for Kosovo’s statehood and undermines the integration of Kosovo in the international community. The report also emphasizes a negative asymmetry in economic trade but also in citizen mobility between Russia and Kosovo.

However, the most interesting, and perhaps the most controversial are conclusions about the Russia’s current role in influencing Kosovo Serbs. Namely, the report indicates that the creation of the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities might offer a chance for a stronger Russian engagement comparing the Association with Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Moreover, the report goes even further stating that “Russian influence through the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities would pose a challenge for the normal functioning of the state of Kosovo, causing a blockade of the country’s decision-making. (…)Their primary intention is to develop alternative foreign policy tools to be used by the representatives of this body, potentially for Russian interests.”.

Similarly, a pro-Russian media presence in Serbia is perceived as an important factor in spreading pro-Russian propaganda among Kosovo Serbs. The author argues that fake news is dispersed through different Russian media outlets including Sputnik and Russia Today. More precisely, “Russian owned media is produced in Serbian language, including such as R Magazin, Nova Srpska Politicka Misao, or Radio and TV Sputnik, and aim to target the Serbian community living mostly in Northern Kosovo. Through this audience, they aim to spread fake news that might contribute to the perception of Kosovo as a threat. “

Yet, the author failed to offer specific evidence in support of this argumentation. A comparison between Association and Republika Srpska is a statement often used in Kosovo in the attempt to oppose the creation of the self-governing association of municipalities with majority Serb population. However, the author of the report did not offer a detailed analysis of the argument, instead declaring it as a self-evident truth. In addition, it is not clear how exactly would Russia control and influence the work of this body.

In similar manner, the authors failed to offer data to what extent Kosovo Serbs in reality read news produced by pro-Russian media and consequently how it influences their attitudes and political views. It seems that the sole existence of Russian-owned media in Serbia possess a treat for Kosovo, because Kosovo Serbs are able to read their content, which is an extremely vague and unclear statement that rather belongs to the political realm.

And yet, strangely enough, a list of general recommendations designed by the author completely excludes Kosovo Serbs, even though they are identified by the author as the main channel of Russian influence. The recommendations are focused on cooperation with NATO, the US and the EU primarily.

To conclude, the Russian persistence to not recognise Kosovo and block its international recognition along with its ties with Serb community does create a potential space for Russia to interfere in Kosovo affairs. However, even though it is of outmost importance for Kosovo to explore and then develop possible tools to counter negative Russian influence, it is equally significant to offer an evidence-based and thorough research that will avoid imprecise and ambiguous statements. It will not only positively affect the credibility of the findings, but also assist in creating the right instruments for tackling the future influence of Russia.

Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States

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