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RussiaSeptember 12 2022, 12:22 pm

Russia’s Influence in the Balkans Based on History, Religion, and Culture

George­town University’s Berkley Cen­ter has recent­ly pub­lished a report on Russia’s influ­ence in the Balka­ns, argu­ing that Rus­sia uses his­tor­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and reli­gious links to spread its influ­ence in the region. Accord­ing to the report:

July 25, 2022 How­ev­er, more impor­tant for Rus­sia are the region’s sig­nif­i­cant his­tor­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and reli­gious connections—narratives of shared ties that are active­ly prop­a­gat­ed by Russ­ian media out­lets in the region, as well as pub­lic diplo­ma­cy offi­cials. More specif­i­cal­ly, Moscow plays the shared cul­tur­al and reli­gious ties card among the region’s Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian pop­u­la­tion that con­sti­tutes sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­ages in Bosnia, in addi­tion to majori­ties in Ser­bia, Mon­tene­gro, and North Mace­do­nia. Ser­bia has been per­ceived as Russia’s kin state in the region, a much small­er and fee­bler ver­sion of the Rus­sia-Belarus rela­tion­ship, which involves manip­u­lat­ing iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics, church rela­tions, and eco­nom­ic inter­ests.  As one of the last regions of Europe that has not yet been ful­ly inte­grat­ed into Euro-Atlantic struc­tures, the Balka­ns present an obvi­ous tar­get for Russ­ian influ­ence oper­a­tions. Reli­gious links are usu­al­ly gate-open­ers for more con­se­quen­tial deals—including in strate­gic sec­tors such as ener­gy, bank­ing, and real estate—and hence grad­u­al­ly lead to polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic depen­dence. […] Russ­ian overt and covert influ­ence oper­a­tions in the Balka­ns have been aimed at fos­ter­ing local, peo­ple-to-peo­ple con­nec­tions and cre­at­ing friend­ly con­stituen­cies and var­i­ous levers of influ­ence. Russia’s sec­ond approach was to exac­er­bate exist­ing polit­i­cal and social fis­sures with­in a coun­try, bet­ting that such moves would inhib­it fur­ther inte­gra­tion into West­ern eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, or secu­ri­ty structures.

Read the rest here.

The Glob­al Influ­ence Oper­a­tions Report pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed that the post-com­mu­nist lega­cy, pan-Slav­ism, the role of the Ortho­dox Church, and deeply embed­ded cul­tures of cor­rup­tion in the Balka­ns are impor­tant fac­tors that facil­i­tate Russia’s malign influ­ence in the region. We have also report­ed that Rus­sia engages a range of actors and tools across the Balka­ns, includ­ing offi­cial diplo­mats, friend­ly oli­garchs, rad­i­cal groups, and lead­ing media out­lets. This effort is facil­i­tat­ed by com­mon lan­guages among sev­er­al states of the for­mer Yugoslavia.

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