Dr Orhan Dragaš: Russia’s strong hybrid operation against Serbia

Russia knows very well that installing some of its military or intelligence bases in Serbia is absolutely impossible, but it raises the topic anyway. They knew very well that Sergey Lavrov could not come to Belgrade, but they kept the matter open until the last moment. We are talking about Russian pressure on Serbia, which has existed for years, and because of their aggression against Ukraine, it is becoming much stronger, more visible and more ruthless. The story about the military bases, Lavrov’s failed visit to Belgrade, and especially Russian activities during last week’s crisis in the north of Kosovo are only visible evidence that the Kremlin is conducting a strong hybrid operation against Serbia, the aim of which is to use Serbia for its war interests in Ukraine and for its own conflict with the West.

Although it has been saying for years that it has nothing against it, Russia actually does not want Serbia in the European Union, and it especially does not want it in NATO, and it is working on it in a systematic, organized manner, using all the resources it has. Since it invaded Ukraine, Russian pressures on Serbia have been exposed, and they aim to open a new crisis to which the West would be much more committed and thus reduce its involvement in supporting Ukraine. For Russia, it would be ideal if this new Balkan crisis would be armed and bloody, and Kosovo is the ideal place for such a thing. This is Russia’s real interest in relation to Serbia, and it is part of its war goal in Ukraine, so any further talk about some kind of alliance, friendship and brotherhood is an insult to common sense.

When the problems regarding license plates and identity cards of Serbs in Kosovo escalated, Russia in just a few days conducted a massive operation to spread disinformation, directly incite conflict, and spread fake news. It was a real hybrid storm, in which not only well-established online channels were used to spread fake news, but also the highest Russian officials participated in it, from Dmitry Peskov, Maria Zakharova, the head of the Duma, Russia’s ambassador to Serbia, to the most influential Russian propagandists and media.

That operation is still ongoing, this story about military bases is just its continuation, and there will be more, because the problems between Belgrade and Pristina have not been solved yet, but have been frozen for a month. In the meantime, while a solution is being sought, Russia will put pressure on Serbia with this and similar disinformation, weaken its position, forcing it to defend itself against fake news, instead of focusing on key issues, which is primarily Kosovo. Also, with this kind of pressure, Russia further complicates Serbia’s position in front of the West, which is otherwise complicated due to the non-introduction of sanctions against Moscow. In this sense, Alexander Lukashenko’s recent statement was a more than clear message from Moscow that Serbia must decide which side to take, and it was particularly threatening that the Belarusian president made a distinction between the policy of the authorities in Belgrade and what the people of Serbia think. That was at the level of a direct threat, because let’s not forget that the Russian aggression against Ukraine was also justified by the fact that the government in Kyiv separated itself from the people, who were supposedly on the side of Russia, and that was why the fraternal troops came to “liberate” Ukraine from such, non-popular authorities.

I believe that the state is aware of this aggressive and basically hostile behaviour of Russia towards Serbia, and especially that it has enough means and will to oppose it. As unrealistic as the story of installing some kind of military bases is, it has its own clear goal and, unfortunately, it has already achieved a certain effect. Unfortunately, there will be more of such deceptions and appropriations of Serbia, and their goal will be only one, which is to improve Russia’s position in connection with the aggression against Ukraine, while Serbia can only expect new damage to itself and its interests.