In the Western Balkans, Serbia is the country where Russia has the greatest influence, extending it through various fields.
According to a research conducted by Dr. Rumena Filipova, not only the political elite but also the people in Serbia support the idea that Serbia and Russia should have a good relationship with each other.
Most Serb citizens (about 90% of them) have never been to Russia, but have formed their own opinions to that country based on information received from the media.
“Public opinion polls show that Serbian citizens maintain a predominantly positive attitude towards Russia. This is despite the fact that the majority of Serbs have never been to Russia (around
90% of respondents declared this to be the case) and most of them rely on pro-governmental media outlets to inform themselves about Russia-related affairs.
Therefore, the bulk of the Serbian population’s views on the Kremlin are shaped by the narratives promoted by Serbia’s ruling political elite. A majority of Serbian citizens (92%) believe that Serbia should have close relations with Russia. A predominant number of Serbs (over 80%) consider Russia to be a friend of Serbia.”
Based on these statistics, the support and admiration that the Serbian people have for Russia is mainly as a result of its coverage in the local media.
“The direct Russian media footprint (ownership) in Serbia is low. The most prominent Russian media outlets in Serbia are the Sputnik and RT branches. However, pro-government newspapers and TV channels often take reports directly from RT and Sputnik, or they use Russian media as their main source of information on world events and bilateral ties with Russia. The latter is especially valid in relation to international discussions on the status of Kosovo. The Kremlin’s support for Serbia’s cause in Kosovo and Russia’s rejection of Kosovo’s independence has been the cornerstone of Russia’s positive image and strong political leverage in Serbia in recent history.” It is said on this research.
Although only 3 media outlets, which are not very popular in Serbia, are owned by the Russians, the Russian influence in the local media is extremely large.
“Only three companies operating in the Serbian media sector are directly owned by Russian nationals or Russian entities, according to international corporate databases:
Ruski Ekspres AD is a news agency company with a very small turnover, limited assets, and without a presence as a source of information for other media;
Veb Portali is a company that claims to be dealing with the creation of internet presentations, but it appears to be inactive;
SPN Media Solutions is involved with sound recording and publishing, having a more significant turnover (above USD 3 million in 2017 and 2016).”
As it can be seen in these statistics, the direct involvement of Russian entities in the field of media in Serbia is small, but for this, the local media contribute.
Many media outlets in Serbia are involved and committed to extending Russian influence in the country.
In Dr. Filipova’s research, some of the local media which spread Russian influence and propaganda are listed.
“Sputnik Serbia is one of the two major Russian outlets in Serbia that operates in the Serbian language and is the local edition of the Russian state-owned Sputnik news agency.
Informer is published by the Insider Group DOO, a company owned by Dragan Vucicevic, a former journalist for several tabloids including the Serbian Nacional, Kurir, and Press. According to Vucicevic, the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, and the president’s brother are his personal friends.
Vecernje Novosti was branded as the first popular daily newspaper in the country with its origins in the Former Yugoslavia. Unlike Informer, Novosti has not been the subject of outstanding controversies or legal proceedings for libel and biased reporting.It is owned by the state and its main editor is Milorad Vucelic, a former high-profile official in Slobodan Milosevic’s regime and one of the directors of the Radio Television of Serbia during that same time.”
The direction of these media confirms the fact that Russia extends its influence in the Balkans through Serbia.