European Commission Vice President Josep Borrell has warned the Western Balkan countries of Russian disinformation campaigns.
In an interview for Deutsche Welle in Albanian on Tuesday, Borrell noted Russia’s attempts to win over hearts and minds through fake news on regional media. Borrell said that Russia is trying to increase its influence in the Balkans, misinform the public, make them believe it’s fighting Nazism in Ukraine, convince them that Zelensky is committing genocide against Russians.
“[There is] a lot of Russian influence. I hope the European influence will get bigger,” he stated.
Borrell is visiting the region this week following increasing concerns over possible effects of Russian invasion of Ukraine in the region. His last stop is Bosnia and Herzegovina today, where Serbs backed by Serbia and Russia have been threatening to dissolve the country. He visited North Macedonia and Albania earlier.
Asked about Serbia’s refusal to impose sanctions on Russia and align its foreign and security policy with the European Union, Borrell dodged the question while highlighting Serbia’s signing of an UN resolution condemning the Russian “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Serbian supporters of Vladimir Putin have held two rallies in support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, making Belgrade the only capital in the world to host pro-invasion rallies since the aggression was launched. Serbian media in the region, particularly in Serbia and Republika Srpska of Bosnia and Herzegovina, regularly praise the Putin regime and its achievements in the war against Ukraine.
No leader in Serbia or Republika Srpska has ever condemned the Russian invasion in public. Whenever they have to mention it, they call it “special military operation”, the name given to it by the Russian regime. In addition, despite repeated calls by the EU, Serbia has continuously refused to impose sanctions on Russia since the invasion of Crimea in 2014.
Borrell avoided an explicit mention of the fact that the main source of Russian disinformation in the region is the Serbian media, tightly controlled by President Aleksandar Vucic. He claimed Serbia’s signature on the UN resolution brings it on the European Union’s side, but avoided discussing the country’s refusal to impose sanctions on Russia.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron reassured Vucic taht Serbia is going to be the first Western Balkan country to join the European Union.
A group of Members of the European Parliament called on the European Commission last week to freeze EU accession talks and financial support for Serbia until it aligns its foreign policy with the European Union.
In his interview, Borrell also talked about the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue which he is tasked with facilitating. The diplomat said the dialogue has stalled but it remains the only way for both countries’ future as members of the European Union.
The two countries have been sitting in dialogue since 2011 with little progress. Serbia vows to never recognize Kosovo and wants it to establish an association of Serb-only municipalities, which the Kosovo government maintains could operate as a parallel government and undermine the country’s sovereignty and stability.
This week Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti claimed that Serbia’s refusal to align its foreign policy with the EU in imposing sanctions against Russia and explicitly condemn the invasion of Ukraine could negatively impact the dialogue between the two countries.