Vladimir Putin’s next frontline could be the Balkans, a whistleblower has warned.
The seeds have already been planted ahead of the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine to cause trouble in Bulgaria, Serbia, North Macedonia and Bosnia, while Moscow quietly moves the pieces in its geopolitical chess game with the West.
Part of the Kremlin’s plan is to “take care” of foreign students in Russia and place them in government institutions in their home countries.
Petar Tanev, who was born in Bulgaria but lived in Moscow for 13 years, told Metro.co.uk of attempts to recruit him to spread “malicious” propaganda against the EU and NATO.
The 23-year-old has a degree in international relations from RUDN University – once considered the “Oxford” of Russia.
Months before he graduated in 2022, Petar was invited by a Bulgarian colleague to travel to annexed Crimea as part of a project to organize events to influence the Balkan peninsula.
He said, “Students like me are all potential agents in the eyes of the Kremlin.” A colleague from Serbia and I were invited to participate in a project to create links between students from the Balkans and Crimea.
“The person who invited us was a big lobbyist. He told me that if I represented Bulgaria in Russia, or vice versa, I would have a bright future. He knew that I had dual citizenship.
“This is a real example of how much they care about people. He asked me to gather other Bulgarians, as well as Serbs and Macedonians living and studying in Russia, to invite them to Crimea. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t want to admit that I was openly against the Kremlin regime.”
“This man started calling me every day, but I just ignored him. I talked to my colleague who was recruited with me and told him that there were some obvious connections to spy agencies. He said, “Even better.” I understand he went to Crimea with Bulgarian students. As far as I know, they are now working in our ministries.”
This follows the spy scandal last week in which three Bulgarians were arrested in the United Kingdom, which only revealed the true extent of the Kremlin’s activities in Bulgaria.
According to Petar, “hundreds” of young people from his country travel to Russia for higher education.
He even compared the system to the propaganda of Joseph Goebbels, the chief propagandist of the Nazi Party in Germany during World War II.
To counter infiltration, he called on the Bulgarian government to severely restrict the employment of people who have studied in Russia in the last three years or are currently registered there.
“In the name of Bulgaria’s sovereignty and security, the government should establish a very careful procedure for hiring a person who had a degree from a Russian university at the time the war began,” Petar stressed.
Petar also recalled another time when he felt the Kremlin’s influence in his late teens, when he worked for a student organization that focused on geopolitics in the Balkans.
According to him, the Russian Education Ministry at the time spent “millions of rubles” on propaganda in Bosnia’s breakaway region, Republika Srpska, and on Western influence.
Of course, there are fears that a number of people – many with EU passports – have been “brainwashed” into similar groups.
Petar said that once they are “taken,” there is no going back, as it is difficult to escape them.
Moreover, international security agencies have information when someone is on the Kremlin payroll, he noted.
After the start of the war in Ukraine, the sanctions imposed by the West made it much more difficult for Putin’s inner circle to use so-called “official spies,” so they have to use such options.
Petar said, “Many students studying in Russia have EU passports. Using them is really the most efficient way to influence the political systems in the Balkans.”
Since returning to Bulgaria last year, he has been lobbying the government for pro-Ukrainian policies and advising members of the European Parliament.
His Instagram is a showcase of his work against the Russian war in Ukraine. /Geopost/