Analysis of the Narrative: “The West’s final showdown with Serbia” – The situation in Kosovo is once again a reason for anti-Western narratives

January 2024.

As part of the program Regional Initiative to Combat 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.

The West’s final showdown with Serbia – The situation in Kosovo is once again a reason for anti-Western narratives

Ongoing tensions between Serbia and Kosovo rose again in early 2024, triggering a new cycle of anti-Western media narratives. While certain aspects of the relationship between Belgrade and Pristina were systematically ignored, including the decision of the Serbian authorities to recognize Kosovo license plates, the pro-government and pro-Russian media in Serbia were much more concerned with the announced acquisition of Kosovo’s weapons in the United States. In this context, narratives about the destabilization of the region and the West’s intention to exert “decisive pressure” on Serbia were promoted.

On the other hand, the end of January was marked by the announcement of the official Pristina and the subsequent decision of the Central Bank of Kosovo to conduct payment transactions in Kosovo exclusively in euros, which will de facto mean a ban on the use of the dinar in Kosovo, which will primarily affect the Serbian community in the north. The implementation of these measures was delayed, given the displeasure of part of the international community and in the domestic media, among other things, the narrative mentioned above about Western pressure on Serbia and tacit support for these moves continued.

“Showdown” and “dangerous game” – how the media in Serbia presented Kosovo’s acquisition of weapons in the USA

The dominant framework of texts and analyses related to the US decision to sell Javelin anti-tank missile systems to Kosovo in the pro-government and pro-Russian media was focused on the alleged aggressive political goals of the West concerning Serbia and on creating a threat that will contribute to the destabilization of the entire region.

The frequent texts of the Serbian portal of the Russian state service Sputnik were especially suggestive. The analysis of the title “America is preparing for the final showdown with the Serbs” claims that “America, like a wounded beast, is trying to destroy as much as possible… so it is also preparing the final showdown with the Serbs.” Sputnik’s interlocutor Aleksandar Pavić, recently a member of Parliament in the Serbian Parliament in front of the “WE – Voice of the People” list, points out that the USA is doing this by, among other things, “arming secessionists in Pristina, former, current and future terrorists, so allowing the silent ethnic cleansing of Serbia, pushing the membership of the fake state of Kosovo into all international institutions… which would destabilize the entire government in Serbia.”

Commenting on the US State Department’s decision to approve the sale of Javelin missile systems to Kosovo, Sputnik emphasized that the US is looking to open new hotspots and that they will now “try to finish the unfinished business they have been announcing for years.”

Sputnik tried to apostrophize in a negative narrative context that the United States Ambassador to Serbia, Christopher Hill, was among the first to announce this decision. In the words of the author of the text on the Sputnik portal, “the ambassador…in the manner of a diplomatic Taliban, informed the President of Serbia that Washington will sell Pristina 246 Javelin anti-tank missiles.” It is pointed out in very explicit language that the USA is “publicly and thuggishly” violating international law and that “on the open stage, it is preparing the mutant state of Kosovo for war.”

On Sputnik, it was continuously emphasized that the USA is striving to “break” Serbia and that before the presidential elections in November 2024, they started to “pour weapons into a territory that, according to international norms, should not even have an army.”

Other media also reported in the same vein. The most influential pro-government tabloid, Informer, published an analysis with the characteristic title “They started with the sole… The USA launched an attack on Serbia,” in which it is pointed out that Washington is publicly violating all agreements and norms when it comes to Kosovo. It is added that the USA is demonstrating force and has turned to direct imposition of a solution to the status of Kosovo’s statehood in an election year.

The narrative that the arming of Kosovo, which is foreseen in the nearest time frame, will destabilize the region and undermine the negotiation process was very present in the domestic media. The portal Srbin.info reported the statement of the spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, in which she condemns the decision of the US to “arm the illegitimate paramilitary structures of Pristina” since this will have a negative impact on the dialogue.

On the same portal, it was emphasized that the United States, by the scenario they are developing, expects an armed conflict between the two sides and that they have already chosen the side they will support, which is why the decision was made to sell the Javelin system.

Numerous media outlets also reported the statement of a French MEP from the right-wing populist National Assembly, made during a debate in the European Parliament, that the sale of Javelin missiles is a “dangerous game” and that “it can only contribute to tensions and threats… and that it takes little to start a fire (in the Balkans).”

Procedures for the delivery of weapons are complex; deadlines are unclear

The urgency with which this media coverage coloured the situation does not match the relatively long procedure yet to be followed. In the meantime, assessments have shown that the weapons will not significantly affect the balance of military forces in the region.

The State Department’s approval of the missile sale is only the first step, as additional procedures must be followed. Namely, the US Congress, which is currently polarized in political conflicts between Democrats and Republicans, has further powers to allow or prevent sales. Congress has 30 days to pass a formal resolution if it wants to block the sale, which requires a majority in both chambers.

Bearing in mind the dominant position within the Congress regarding support for Kosovo and the fact that the issues of arms sales to smaller partners and in politically sensitive regions are mainly outside the focus of the public and sharper political debates, it is to be expected that such a resolution will not be adopted in this conference, i.e. that the sale of Javelin missiles to Kosovo will be officially confirmed in the following period.

Also, it should be borne in mind that this decision, which has yet to “pass” the US Congress this year, will not mean the simultaneous delivery of missile systems to Kosovo when adopted. Experts point out that it can take months, sometimes up to 2 or 3 years, until the weapons are delivered, although it is a relatively small quantity in this case. There is an excellent demand for Javelin missile systems at the world level, primarily from Ukraine, while in the United States, it is necessary to replenish stocks.

Due to such limitations, it is unrealistic to expect that Javelin missiles will be delivered to Kosovo soon. Additionally, Thomas Countryman, an American diplomat and expert in arms sales processes, suggests that the given weapons systems are primarily defensive and that their purchase primarily sends a political message without affecting regional stability. Countryman concludes that “stability does not depend on the balance of weapons, but the will of the leaders to work on political normalization.”

Abolition of the dinar – “Kurti follows the agenda of Great Britain and Germany”

When it comes to the topic that in the second half of January grew into one of the central ones in the domestic media, and because of which, a new crisis point was opened in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina – the announcement of the practical abolition of the dinar in payment transactions in Kosovo – to a certain extent, in media coverage, an extended narrative about Western pressure on Serbia and essential tacit support for moves against the Kosovo minority.

In its analysis, Sputnik claims that “Kurti plays as Britain and Germany play,” while, on the other hand, “America watches.” The interlocutors point out that the prime minister of the temporary institutions of Pristina, Albin Kurti, follows the agenda of these countries (Great Britain and Germany), to which he “responds to increase the pressure on Serbia” and the United States, which “shows a grain of understanding for the Serbs,” will not influence that, because they do not want a conflict with their allies.

It is concluded that “those who can stop this do not want to interfere or pressure Pristina.” RT Balkan writes that the West’s messages are insincere and “that the decision has already been agreed upon and it is only a matter of time before it will be implemented.”

The Informer reported in a similar tone – “There is no effective pressure from the West, so Kurti does what he wants” and “Reactions from the West have never brought security.” It is emphasized that there is no adequate pressure from the West because all the leading countries recognize Kosovo and fundamentally support Pristina “in all possible ways.” Also, the author’s position was expressed that “phrases from the West” would not protect the Serbs and that the reactions, regardless of the condemnations of the actions of the Pristina authorities, “never brought security to the Serbs.”

Implementing the initially planned measures in practice has been suspended since the so-called transitional period of several months at the request of the leading Western countries. During the emergency session of the UN Security Council convened at the beginning of February, the agreement of all permanent members was reached in calling on the authorities in Kosovo to postpone the implementation of new measures due to the negative immediate effects on the Serbian community.

Author: Igor Mirosavljević