Analysis of the Narrative “Russia should intervene: The reaction of the anti-Western media to the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo”

March 2023

As part of the Regional Initiative in Combating Disinformation “Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Hub: Exposing Malign Influences through Watchdog Journalism”, we present you a new monthly analyses of fake news and disinformation narratives.

Russia should intervene: The reaction of the anti-Western media to the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo

On February 27, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti verbally accepted the text of the “Agreement on the path to normalisation between Kosovo and Serbia” in Brussels, in the presence of European Union mediators. Three weeks later, on March 18, the two leaders verbally accepted the Implementation Annex of the agreement at a meeting in Ohrid, North Macedonia.

The agreement and the annex are the result of negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, which have been mediated by the European Union for more than a decade. The dialogue, whose ultimate goal is an “agreement on the comprehensive normalization of relations”, has been practically stagnant for years, which was changed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the beginning of 2022. Under new circumstances, the countries of the European Union and the United States of America became more intensively engaged in unfreezing the normalization process. The result was the so-called “German-French” proposal, which was presented to the parties in the second half of 2022 and accepted in February and March 2023.

According to the statements of the mediators in the dialogue, the agreement reached by Vučić and Kurti is of a transitional nature and does not represent an “agreement on comprehensive normalization”; instead, the document regulated several issues, including Serbia’s non-opposition to Kosovo’s membership in international organizations and Kosovo’s obligation to establish specific arrangements and guarantees to ensure an appropriate level of self-management for the Serbian community in Kosovo. The text of the agreement is somewhat based on the document by which the two Germany regulated the relations in 1972.

Interpretations of the document have varied. Some analysts rated its scope as too modest and expressed reservations about its implementation. Instead of signing the agreement, it was included in the negotiation framework of Serbia and Kosovo for their accession to the European Union. On the other hand, nationalist and pro-Russian parties and the media in Serbia declared the document a “treason” and condemned its acceptance, as well as Serbia’s participation in the dialogue under the auspices of the European Union and all the agreements previously reached within it. On March 17, part of the opposition parties organized a protest in Belgrade against the acceptance of the agreement.

At the time of writing this analysis, it is still difficult to assess what consequences the agreement will have and how much it will be respected – at the end of the month of April 2023, Serbia voted against Kosovo’s membership in the Council of Europe at a meeting of the Council’s committee of ministers. It is also unknown what the consequences will be for Vučić’s rating. The pro-government media, as well as all other elements of the government, continued to support him. The only criticism during this period came from right-wing and pro-Russian portals critical of the authorities, whose influence on public opinion, however, is not insignificant.

These media, therefore, became the main source of anti-Western narratives related to the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo. The two main forms in which the narratives appeared were that the agreement is the result of the colonial status of Serbia, which the West wants to destroy, and that Russia should intervene in this process and protect Serbian national interests. The texts published on these portals ranged from conveying the statements of politicians and other figures to detailed legal and political analyzes through which anti-Western sentiments permeated.

The West is the colonizer and destroyer of Serbia

The portal Srbin info, with several published texts, contributed to the narrative about the colonial status of Serbia. This media reported the statement of the People’s Movement of Serbs from Kosovo and Metohija “Fatherland” in which it condemned the lack of reaction to the agreement of some state institutions, including the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, which was also linked to the West.

“What shows that this shameful act of treason has been prepared for a long time, first of all by Western countries, is also shown by the attitude of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, whose president, Vladimir Kostić, became famous during his two mandates by persistently repeating that Serbia must renounce Kosovo and Metohija,” the announcement states.

In another text published by Srbin info, it is stated that the giving up on Kosovo would be “ethical suicide of the nation”, after which “the globalist elites will consider that Serbia is broken, symbolically and practically”. Sociologist Slobodan Antonić is also quoted, who assessed that Serbia “was led under complete colonial dependence of the EU (economically and financially) was a long time planned effort. Vučić calculatedly uses such a situation as one of the main arguments for putting pressure on the Serbian public and deceiving them that they must not give up on the “path to the EU”, because that would, apparently, be a disaster for Serbia”. Abandoning the path to the EU in this context is linked to the refusal to implement the agreement with Kosovo.

After the agreement was accepted, there were calls for protests and rejection of “Western ultimatums” from many sides. Among the harshest statements of this type was from orthodox monk Arsenije, abbot of the Ribnica monastery, which was reported by the portal Stanje stvari.

“What were we afraid of and who were we afraid of? Have the Serbs ever been afraid of anyone? They are not and will not be! And we will be the least afraid of a handful of miserable European blackmailers, a bunch of drunkards, homosexuals and the sick, whom no one respects even in their Europe anymore!”, this portal reported a post from the Facebook page of monk Arsenije.

He called for five hundred thousand or one million people to take to the streets of Belgrade, comparing the current West with Nazi Germany.

“Beograd remembers when the people protested on March 27, when the Church also stood by its people, and we believe that it will stand by its people this March as well!” The Serb and his Church have always been on the right side of history. May it be so this time and forever!!!”, wrote the orthodox monk Arsenije, alluding to the protests against the accession of the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia to the Tripartite Pact.

The call to protest against the agreement with Kosovo, in which the West is presented as the colonizer of Serbia, was also sent by Goran Živković in a text on the portal Borba za istinu, in which the terms “colonizer” and “colonial administration” were mentioned five times.

“Let’s show the treacherous colonial administration and the Western colonizers that we have enough strength and will to stand up and, with God’s help, defeat evil! Serbs, to the assembly to defend the Constitutional order, the integrity of the country and our right to a normal life… Let’s move from comments to actions and let’s not allow others to organize our lives and our country, let’s do it ourselves. Wake up Serbia, revolt, fight!”, this text states.

Some articles went further than calling for protests, and estimated that there is a possibility of armed conflicts in Serbia and attempts to forcefully change the government. In that scenario, the West would intervene to protect the government of Aleksandar Vučić. This is how the situation was interpreted in the text of magazine Tabloid, which states that “Aleksandar Vučić is a lonely dictator who is grasping at straws for cooperation with the NATO alliance” and it is claimed that he receives instructions from the West on how to deal with potential street protests.

Another text predicting potential violence was conveyed on the portal Stanje stvari from the Russian portal Carigrad, and it is signed by political scientist and publicist Igor Pshenichnikov. The title of the text read “War in Serbia begins on March 19”, the day after the meeting between Vucic and Kurti in Ohrid.

“There is a danger that mass anti-presidential protests will break out in Serbia. Apart from that, we should expect riot in the Republic of Srpska within Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The leader of the Serbs in BiH, Milorad Dodik, has stated on several occasions that, if Kosovo finally separates from Serbia, then the Serbs in BiH will also have the moral right to separate from the rest of the “artificial state creation” in which they are now and join “Mother Serbia”. And this threatens a new big Balkan war, in which the Serbs will be alone and in an absolutely hostile surroundings. Almost all patriotic Serbian politicians unanimously declare that without the support of Russia, Serbia and the Serbs will perish under the tremendous pressure of the USA and Europe and under the “traitorous government in Belgrade”, wrote Pshenichnikov in a text that was conveyed by Stanje stvari.

Professors Slobodan Samardžić of the University of Belgrade and Zoran Čvorović of the University of Kragujevac have also written longer analytical texts, in which the agreement is analyzed from political and legal points of view. Although mostly neutral, these texts, however, contained several elements of the narrative “West is colonizer of Serbia”, and were conveyed on the aforementioned portals.

“There will be no peace in Serbia, because for today’s West, Kosovo is just a thread of a successfully torn sock, followed by other threads: southeastern Serbia, Raška Oblast, Republic of Srpska… And if anyone thinks that Vučić will leave power after the dirty work is done, they are seriously mistaken, because only he can play an internal role for the external strategy of the Gleichschaltung “Western Balkans”, where the head of the one who sticks out should be cut off,” states one of Samardžić’s texts.

In another text by the same author, published after the meeting in Ohrid, it is claimed that the goal of the West is to threaten the Serbian national identity, that is, “to transform the Serbs from their own historical identity into the Western Balkans.”

“This realistic-dark scenario is a warning for all those who believe that after this supposedly necessary and dirty job, the bright dawn of the so-called European Serbia will happen. Absolutely no. What does the West think about democratic Serbia with the rule of law, etc. was shown in its continuous action of almost a decade and a half. The West was able to bring the entire pro-EU movement under control with its colonialist tricks,” wrote Samardžić.

In his analysis for Novi Standard, Professor Zoran Čvorović concluded that, despite the absence of a formal signature, the agreement that Vučić and Kurti agreed upon creates legal consequences. As a reaction, he proposes the dismissal of Aleksandar Vučić and mass peaceful protests, as this would “send a clear message to the West that the policy of existential collaboration in Serbia has come to an end”.

Russia should intervene

Another widely spread narrative in the weeks following the Serbia-Kosovo agreement was that Russia should intervene and protect Serbian national interests, as well as drawing a parallel between this agreement and the Minsk agreements between Russia and Ukraine, which failed to prevent the escalation of the conflict.

In the above-mentioned text by Igor Pshenichnikov, it is claimed that the United States views Kosovo as the “cheap merchandise they can bargain with” which could be used in case of extremely negative development of events in Ukraine.

“The US is constantly provoking an armed conflict between the Shiptars and the Serbs, using the tensions in this region of the Balkans as an instrument of pressure on Russia. It is calculated that Moscow will be forced to intervene in the conflict in order to save the Orthodox Serbs who openly support the Russians in their fight against the West in Ukraine,” writes Pshenichnikov, adding that Russia is obliged to intervene in the “peace dialogue” between Belgrade and Pristina.

This scenario was welcomed by certain political actors. Mlađan Đorđević, the leader of the Liberation Movement, stated that “Russia will not accept the intention of Vučić to push the territory of the so-called Kosovo into the NATO pact”, and that for Russia this is a red line.

Borko Puškić, an opposition MP from Dveri, called on the authorities to request the inclusion of Russia in the negotiation process.

“Only in this way international law and the interests of Serbs and Serbia could be protected, because every other solution has proven to be an international fraud of the collective West, similar to the one that was behind the Minsk Agreements. A greater role of the Russian Federation, which has on several occasions given a clear signal to Serbia that it expects our invitation to join the negotiations, would represent a key moment in the defense of the territorial integrity of Serbia, its Constitution, and international law,” Puskić said.

Finally, political analyst Dragomir Andjelković estimated that, if Russia intends to react, it must do so now, and not when it is faced with Serbia’s introduction of sanctions, which could also occur as a result of pressure from the West. All three statements were reported by the portal Srbin info.

Another narrative that linked the events between Serbia and Kosovo to Russia was promoted on Serbian editions of Russian state media, citing Russian officials. They compared the current negotiations to previous cases where Western diplomacy allegedly misled the parties.

The spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, assessed on March 9 that the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina under the auspices of the European Union has every chance of repeating the fate of the Normandy Format (negotiations on a peaceful resolution of the situation in the southeast of Ukraine, in which Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France participated), Sputnik Srbija reported.

“With the efforts of the West, certain arguments were presented, dubious, but they insisted on it. Now, 15 years later, the West refuses to follow its own self-proclaimed standards when it comes to Ukraine. They reject the results of referendums held in Crimea and Sevastopol, DPR, LNR, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions on the accession to Russia. They call them illegal. I remind you that, back then, in 2008, there was neither legal nor illegal, no referendum on the issue of Kosovo,” she concluded.

Russia Today in the Serbian language, on the other hand, quoted the statement of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov from the “Raisina Dialogue” forum in India.

“Same story, same scam. Serbia’s deception regarding the community of Serb municipalities in Kosovo, Russia’s deception regarding the Minsk agreements”. This statement, according to the opinion of the author from RT, can actually be extended to the entire negotiation process “under the auspices of the political West related to Kosovo and Metohija”.

Author: Aleksandar Ivković