Russian influence in the region increased during the last year
The year that we just left behind, 2021, will be remembered for many developments, but mainly for Russian destabilizing activities in its own surrounding, but also in the Western Balkans.
In 2021 Russia was very active in terms of meeting its goals, while choosing no means and methods in reaching them. Promoting their vaccines, blackmailing their citizens to be vaccinated exclusively with the Russian vaccine, has not been ethical. And, Moscow did not stop there. It turned to its neighbors, blackmailing them over the gas supplies in case they do not respect meet Kremlin demands. There were also threats on the issue of Ukraine in case Kiev joins the NATO alliance, which provoked reactions from the West.
EVENTS THAT MARKED THE YEAR:
Russian army on the border with Ukraine
Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin, has repeatedly deployed several thousand troops, armored vehicles along the border with Ukraine, where Kremlin-backed rebels have fought the Kiev government. In few occasions the tensions between Russia and Ukraine and the West escalated, sparking fears of a new armed conflict.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied accusations that it is planning an invasion in Ukraine and reiterates that the deployment of troops at the border with Ukraine is purely of defensive character. Moreover, Russia claims that they fear Ukraine’s intentions and seeks assurances that Kiev will not use force to regain controlled over the by pro-Russian separatists territories in the east of Ukraine.
Russia expels American diplomats
In late April, Russia declared ten employees of the U.S. embassy in Moscow undesirable, in response to the expulsion of ten Russian diplomats from Washington DC.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia announced on 21 April that the deputy head of the U.S. diplomatic mission at the U.S. Embassy in Russia, Bart Gorman, was handed a note announcing that the employees of the embassy must leave Moscow by 21 May.
Russia is getting information about Jarinje up close
The presence of Russian officials, accompanied by Serbian officials, in the facilities of the Serbian Army on the very border between Serbia and Kosovo is a confusing message from Belgrade, which has been condemned by Western countries. Russia sent its representative during the high tensions between Serbia and Kosovo in order to “be convinced of the current situation”.
The Russian ambassador also used the visit to comment on the position of Western countries, which he called “strange” and “harmful”.
Putin and Vucic meeting
The meeting between Putin and Vucic in Sochi was among the most important news for the Serbian public. Vucic desperately looked forward to the meeting with Putin and gain some points for the upcoming elections. Prices of the Russian gas, which according to Serbian president, is the lowest in Europe, turned to be just another uttered fake claim by the Serbian president.
The meeting meant a lot to the Serbian president. He used to prepare for it for a long time, while showed some nervousness before the meeting. On the other hand, the Russian public was very little acquainted with the famous meeting between Vucic and Putin.
But the Russian media did not stay silent
The Kosovo Institute for Policy Research and Development (KIPRED) presented a report in which Russian media published over 100 fake news. Kosovo Observer: Russia’s diplomatic war and disinformation in the media – is a quarterly report that analyzes public statements and publications of the Russian foreign policy establishment, as well as news about Kosovo, which contain misinformation.
Finally, analyzes of newspaper discourses containing malignant misinformation and disinformation of selected media, which are outstretched by Moscow, show that they generally follow the narratives of the Russian foreign policy, while Sputnik Serbia, Russia Today and TASS are at the forefront of these malicious intelligence activities against Kosovo.
Russia is sending destabilizing messages at a time of tensions between Kosovo and Serbia
After Kosovo established reciprocity measures on the license plates with Serbia, the decision met with outrage from Serbs in the north, who blocked the Jarinje and Branjak border crossings for several days. Russia reacted enthusiastically to the trouble, and as expected sent supportive messages to Belgrade, and to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. The Russian authorities used the unpleasant event to present themselves as Serbia’s greatest friends, turning Serbia towards themselves and their politics.
Instead of a message of peace, Russia sent messages that could have further triggered an escalation.
“If Serbia is militarily endangered in Kosovo and decides to intervene, it can count on Russia’s support,” was Vladimir Putin’s message to the Serbian president through its Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov.
BiH 2021: Russia establishes its model of action in BiH
Russia in Bosnia and Herzegovina is using Milorad Dodik to establish the foundations on its future interference in the Balkan country, and in a rapid mood, knowing that Dodik’s influence might shrink due to lack of support by the EU and the United States, due to his destabilising policies. The “Russian Humanitarian Center” from Nis (Serbia) was moved to the Republika Srpska (BiH), because Russia received its military representation within the Ministry of Defense of Serbia, and the started infrastructure construction projects in the Republika Srpska for Russia are intensifying. There are several infrastructure projects that recall or could serve as a basis for the formation of a Russian military base in Republika Srpska in the future. At a number of locations in the Republika Srpska, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is establishing its infrastructure, which in many segments resembles the war, and the works are directly managed by the Russian Ambassador to BiH Igor Kalabukhov.
Russia has been using Dodik for a long time to establish an intelligence structure independent of Serbia. The presence of Russian intelligence in the Republika Srpska was recorded and monitored, and their task is to prepare the ground for the separation of the Republika Srpska from Bosnia and Herzegovina.