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Russia Ramps Up Media and Military Influence in Balkans

John Cappello
13th October 2017 - Quoted by Kaitlin Lavinder - Cipher Brief

Since its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia has waged a robust disinformation and influence campaign in the Balkans. Over the past few years, the Russians have steadily ramped up their activity in southeast Europe, analysts told The Cipher Brief.

The West does not have “coherent policies” to address this, said Kurt Bassuener, co-founder of the Democratization Policy Council in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital. But there is growing momentum in the West.

“Since this president [Donald Trump] took office and signaled that we were exiting the diplomatic playing field, Russia has gone into the Balkans with gangbusters,” said Senator Chris Murphy, the junior Democratic senator from Connecticut, at the nomination hearing for U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman in September.

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“The information space in the Balkans has one narrative – and that’s Russia,” said John Cappello, a former defense official based in the Balkans and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Sputnik provides pretty much all defense and security news to mainstream media in the Balkans, Cappello said, and Sputnik since 2014 has had an operation based in Serbia. Former Albanian Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu told The Cipher Brief he just received information that Sputnik is also opening a section in Tirana, Albania’s capital.

Cappello is now working with local reporters to create a network of fact-based, unbiased media reporting in the Balkans.
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Last year, Serbia held around 125 military-to-military exchanges with the United States, compared to only four with Russia, said Cappello, who is the former U.S. Air Force and Acting Defense Attaché to Serbia. Out of 26 Serbian training exercises in 2016, only two were with Russia.

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Tags

balkans, russia