In the escalation between USA and Russia over the Ukraine crisis, the information warfare is playing a central role. Indeed, the EU is considering some measures to contain Russian propaganda. In the meantime, Russian influence in the Balkans should not be ignored, as a recent LSE conference showed. While not many Serbs can read Russian language, there are online Serbian media that are spreading the Russian point of view, such as Sputnik Serbia.
The current American administration is worried about the info-war coming from Moscow. Last February 24, the Secretary of state John Kerry, delivered a speech before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mr Kerry, answering to Sen. Ron Johnson, said that
[…] RUSSIA HAS RESORTED TO A LEVEL — YOU ALL SEE IT — IT FLOODS THE BALTIC STATES. IT FLOODS POLAND. IT FLOODS THE FRONT LINE STATES, BULGARIA, ET CETERA, ET CETERA. IT HAS A MAJOR IMPACT. WE JUST FRANKLY ARE NOT ALLOCATING THE MONEY TO COUNTER THE WAY WE OUGHT TO BE. AND WE’RE FULLY PREPARED TO GO OUT THERE AND UNDERTAKE THIS. […] I’M JUST TELLING YOU BLUNTLY. IT’S NOT ENOUGH. AND THEY’RE SPENDING HUGELY ON THIS VAST PROPAGANDA MACHINE, WHICH PEOPLE BELIEVE IN THE PLACES THEY GET THEM BECAUSE THERE’S NOTHING COUNTERING IT. ACCORDING TO PEOPLE IN MANY OF THOSE STATES, WE’RE THE PROBLEM.[see at 51’ of the video]
So the head of the US State Department was asking to the Senate the financial support in order to contrast Russian propaganda with Western oriented information, setting the main narrative of the information. Mr. Kerry mentioned the “front line states”, quoting just Bulgaria, and then said “et cetera et cetera”. The general sense was that Russia was flooding the front line states (between Western and Russian influence) with propaganda.
Soon afterwards, the Russian RIA NOVOSTI news agency, reported Kerry’s statements, adding something more. First of all the term “front line states” used by Kerry became “line of fire” (so with a more “military” taste). Secondly RIA felt entitled to complete Kerry’s “et cetera”, adding Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Georgia, Moldova, Transnistria. While it could be possible to convene with RIA NOVOSTI that the list is quite accurate from a geopolitical point of view, Kerry did not say that.
While the Secretary of State was talking about the opportunity to increase the US budget in order to contrast Moscow propaganda, the very same Kerry’s statement was affected by distortion.
Later on, B92, a pro Western Serbia media, published an article about Kerry’s statement, adopting RIA NOVOSTI as source. The title of B92 was <<Serbia “in line of fire” over Ukraine, says U.S. official>>. This B92 article became a (one among many) sounding board of Russian prop. in Serbian media.
Then American sponsored media (available also) in Serbian language, such as Voice of America or Radio Free Europe, published articles which sources – according to the narrative and details – were clearly inspired by Serbian media (affected by Russian prop). In both cases (here for the Voice of America’s article and here for Radio Free Europe’s article), the narrative was the same, reporting that Kerry mentioned Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia etc. as on the “line of fire” between Washington and Moscow.
Finally, two days later, the Serbian version of Voice of America reported about the trip of the Minister of foreign affairs and deputy prime minister of Serbia Mr Ivica Dacic in the USA, where he met John Kerry. Dacic reassured the American colleague that Serbia, while having a good friendship with Russia, will join the EU. According to Voice of America, Dacic explicitly alluded to Kerry (misrepresented) statement about Serbia being on the “line of fire”, and the dangers of Russian prop in Eastern Europe.
It is possible to assume that:
- There is Russian propaganda
- Russian propaganda is quite strong
- Russian prop it is even adopted by pro-Western Serbian media
- American funded media in Serbian language, while addressing Serbian people, are adopting Serbian media affected by Russian prop
- Serbian policy makers seems to fall prey of Russian prop
While it is not possible with a single case to generalize, it appears quite clear the complex path and structure adopted by media, information, and propaganda, between USA, Russia and Serbia. Indeed, the US Secretary is right: Russia “[…] floods the front line states. It has a major impact”.