Russian Influence in Kosovo: In the shadows of myth and reality

Published by:

Kosovar Centre for Security Studies (KCSS)

Title:

Russian Influence in Kosovo: In the shadows of myth and reality

Author:

Elis Vllasi

Date:

12 November 2020

Russian influence in Kosovo is cloaked in ambiguity. For some amongst the local population, Russians are everywhere, and Russia is the bogeyman that has brought about every political failure in the country. For others, especially within the international organizations present in Kosovo, there is no serious threat from Russia, and the potency of Russian influence is rather easily dismissed. The truth may very well rest in a medium between the two extreme perceptions of Russian influence in Kosovo. It is in this medium-full of ambiguity that the real danger lies; where there is no systemic examination of the extent of Russian influence in the country.

Previous studies show that Russian influence in the Western Balkans is context-dependent. It is grounded on several factors: 1) ethnoreligious links (Slavic populations ascribing to Orthodox Christian beliefs); 2) hydrocarbon dependence (natural gas and oil); 3) state capture; and 4) internal divisions and conflicts. Moreover, Russian influence takes two forms in the West Balkans (benign and hostile). With Slavic and/or Orthodox populations, Russia has sought to build relationships based on affection by invoking historical and common ethnoreligious links. It courts the local populations and the governments to develop a closer relationship.

Kosovo, however, presents a peculiar case as it does not fit this general description of how Russia spreads its influences in the Western Balkans. Unlike with other countries in the region, Russia does not recognize Kosovo nor does it offer an alternative to Euro-Atlantic integration. On the contrary, Russian influence in Kosovo is hostile as it faces a population that is impenetrable to courting. It does not seek to court the population by invoking ethnoreligious links because Kosovars are an ethnically Albanian (non-Slavic population) and overwhelmingly secular Muslims. It cannot call upon a common history as Russia has historically allied with Serbia. It cannot rely on economic leverage as Kosovo’s economy is not based on natural gas and there are no Russian foreign direct investments in the country. Instead, for Russia, the Kosovar population is not courted but shunned and the state is not to be recognized but to be weakened and destroyed. In Kosovo, Russia confronts a people with unparalleled affection for the United States and Western culture and a state with unyielding aspirations to join the European Union and NATO.

This research seeks to add new knowledge to the very limited scholarly work that examines Russia’s influence in Kosovo. This work should serve as a starting point for further scholarly research on this important issue. The next phase of this research will seek to examine Kosovo’s vulnerabilities to Russian influence in the cyber domain.

Disclaimer: This research was sponsored through a Fulbright Fellowship, U.S. Department of State, and the assistance of Kosovar Center for Security Studies (as host institution). The findings, views and opinions presented in this report are solely those of the author and in no way do they represent the opinions, views, or policy positions of the US Department of State – The Fulbright Program, Kosovar Center for Security Studies, Purdue Policy Research Institute, or Purdue University.