Analysis of the News “The second part of RT Balkan research: Serbs are absolutely against the introduction of sanctions against Russia”

January 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 analysis of fake news and disinformation narratives.

The second part of RT Balkan research: Serbs are absolutely against the introduction of sanctions against Russia

With the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the member states of the European Union suspended the broadcasting of Sputnik and RT/Russia Today (RT English, RT UK, RT Germany, RT France and RT Spanish), until the aggression to Ukraine is put to an end, and until the Russian Federation and its associated outlets cease to conduct disinformation and information manipulation actions against the EU and its member. The EU decision states that Sputnik and RT are under “permanent direct or indirect control of the authorities in Russia and is an instrument of fundamental importance in encouraging and supporting military aggression against Ukraine, as well as for destabilizing neighboring countries.”

Back in July, at the first announcements that Russia Today could come to Serbia, the European Union said that Serbia, as a candidate country for membership, is expected to gradually align with the European Union’s foreign and security policy and its decisions. “RT is an instrument of Russia’s propaganda and disinformation with which the Kremlin justifies its illegal aggression against Ukraine,” the EU announced at the time.

Despite the EU sanctions, Russia Today started its work on November 15 in Serbia. Although it is a Russian state television, only an Internet portal was launched in Serbia. As announced, the television is expected to be established by 2024.

RT does not hide its “influence”, or perhaps better to say propaganda, and on January 6 it publishes research in which it comes to knowledge that the practice of shutting down Russian media in Serbia is supported by almost no one. The research for the needs of RT was done by New Serbian Political Thought.

“Only 2.4 percent of citizens support the practice of shutting down Russian media, as is done in the West, while 83.7 percent oppose it.”

This research was conducted on a representative sample of 1,100 respondents from Serbia, excluding Kosovo and Metohija, and was carried out at the end of December last year.

“8.30 percent of the respondents are in favor of introducing sanctions, while 80 percent of Serbian citizens oppose the introduction of sanctions against Russia due to the conflict in Ukraine – that’s an absolute majority,” says Đorđe Vukadinović, head of the research and editor-in-chief of New Serbian Political Thought.

According to this research, 60 percent of Serbian citizens blame NATO for the conflict and only 7.2 percent blame Russia and Ukraine, that is 8.5 percent of Serbian citizens. When it comes to who will win this conflict; public opinion is divided between those who say no one or have no opinion (50.8 percent) and those who think Russia will win (40). Among them, there are more respondents who believe that the West will win (7.6 percent), than those who think that Ukraine will win (1.6 percent).

Due to the emotional and historical ties with Russia and the negative experience with the NATO alliance, Serbian pro-government tabloids and media, in general, transmit a large number of false narratives and disinformation when it comes to NATO, the West and the EU. One of the narratives presented is that NATO is to blame for the start of the war in Ukraine. NATO is a political-military organization that functions both as a military-defense alliance and as a political alliance. The primary goal of the alliance is to maintain peace and protect the independence, security and territorial integrity of its members. The official policy of the alliance is that “NATO does not seek confrontation”, and NATO does not pose a threat to the Russian Federation. Neither NATO, nor the USA, nor the member states of the European Union are to blame for the war in Ukraine, and they strongly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is completely unjustified. Also, a very popular pro-Russian narrative is the NATO alliance allegedly promised Russia that it will not expand after the Cold War. The fact is that no such agreement was ever made. NATO was open to new member states since its founding in 1949 – and that has never changed. This “Open Door Policy” is contained in Article 10 of the NATO Founding Treaty, which states that “Any other European country in a position to advance the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic” may apply for membership.

The research states that 7.6 percent of respondents believe that the West will win the war. In reality, the West, the US and NATO are not directly involved in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. The West is not at war with Russia. There is no American or NATO forces present on the front lines. Western countries provide military aid to Ukraine solely to enable it to defend itself against Russian aggression, but they are not involved in direct fighting.

As we can see from this research, Serbia is currently facing serious challenges in terms of susceptibility to disinformation and malignant foreign influence.

Author: Tanja Plavšić