Preliminary findings: Deconstructing Russian Influence in Kosovo

PRELIMINARY FINDINGS :

Decontructing Russian Influence in Kosovo

Author:

Elis Vllasi, Ph.D., Purdue Policy Research Institute, Fulbright Fellow

Published by:

Kosovar Centre for Security Studies (host institution)

Context

· Russian influence in Kosovo is not about Kosovo. It's about Serbia and the region.

· Russian influence is not directed to winning over Albanians, it’s directed against Kosovo.

Objectives

· Obstruct/discredit NATO expansion and EU integration

· Build Russian image as a global power

· Influence Serbia by offering to advocate for/protect Serbia’s interests in Kosovo

· Kosovo as a bargaining chip with US/EU for deals in post-Soviet space

· Offer an alternative political model to Western liberalism

Actors

· Kosovo Serbs: are non-autonomous; not everyone supports Russian influence

· Serbia: gatekeepers of Russian influence in Kosovo Serb communities

· Russians: (State and non-state actors)

· Foreign: Multilateral institutions / sympathetic supporters (Speculative!)

· Kosovo Albanians: unwilling enablers

Pathways of Influence

· Indirect: Exploiting Existing Conditions

o Institutional (State) Weaknesses

§ Frequent elections

§ Lack of institutional coordination

§ Lack of the rule of law

§ Corruption

§ Organized crime

§ Underdeveloped cyberinfrastructure

§ Some decisions make the government appear untrustworthy

o Societal (Kosovar Albanian) Weaknesses

§ Domestic disinformation/propaganda open to Russian hijacking

§ Distrust levels within the population are alarming

§ Mistrust between society and their government

§ Conspiracy theories flourish in the society

o Institutional and Societal (Kosovo Serb) Weaknesses

§ Dual sovereignty (Kosovar vs. Serbian institutions)

§ Emotional attachment to Russia/Serb Orthodox Church/Pan-Slavism

§ Influence relies on propaganda more than anything else

· Direct: Breeding New Conditions

o At the international level, supports Serbian claims to Kosovo

o Prevents normalization, favors destabilization

o Ridicules/marginalizes Kosovo and K. Albanians (e.g., culture, religion)

o Capitalizes on Serb's emotional attachments with Russia

o Russian media portrays Russia as saviors of Serbs; and Albanians as bad actors.

Level of Influence

· Maximum is impossible

o Majority of population: no cultural/religious/ethnic ties w/ Russia

o The population is Western-oriented and not-sympathetic to Russia

o Presence of US/NATO/Euro narrows Russian influence space

o Kosovo does not rely on Russian gas/oil or FDI

· None is non-existent

o The fact that we are gathered today is in itself influence

o Powerful states yield influence by virtue of their power

o Kosovo as East Berlin during the Cold War. Everyone plays here!

· Mid-range is realistic

o Most influence exercised at the global level, not in Kosovo (e.g., diplomacy, economy)

o On-ground influence in Kosovo is small and applied through Serbia

Lessons “to be” Learned

· State

o Serbian influence is KEY. Counter Serbia if you want less Russian influence

o Increase transparency

§ Publicize an annual review of Russian activity in Kosovo

§ Engage academia/think tanks/civil society to formulate strategies/policies

o Increase in quality of education à more media literacy à less influence

o Fight corruption: increase in corruption à decrease in media literacyà influence

o New/improve legislation to counter influence especially online

· Society

o No Fear but Vigilance: don’t have to be pro-Russian to be manipulated

o High trust among people à Increase in resistance to influence

o Support critical thinking skills in school programs

o Increase media literacy

o Improve investigative journalism

o Translate news in Serbian to provide local Serbs with additional sources

o Support independent Kosovo Serb media

o Increase in distrust of journalism à decrease in media literacy à influence

· International (Western) Community (US/EU/NATO)

o Prepare Kosovo for NATO membership

o Educate, Train, Cooperate and Coordinate on hybrid war using best practices

The opinions and preliminary findings presented here are solely those of the author and in no way do they represent the opinions, views, or policy positions of the U.S. Department of State – The Fulbright Program, Kosovar Center for Security Studies, Purdue Policy Research Institute, or Purdue University.