Georgia’s society known for its culture of protests from the 19th century annexation by the Russian empire, through the revolutionary period, to the Soviet period in the fifties and eighties, has reacted over the past few months to the Moscow provocations again.

Back in the days of Shevardnadze’s mandate from 1995 to 2003, and more resolutely after the 2003 Rose Revolution, Georgia has clearly outlined its path towards the Euro-Atlantic integration, that followed strong protests and obstructions on the part of Kremlin which still considers Georgia their backyard, together with the whole Transcaucasia including Armenia and Azerbaijan. That is why Russia played the ethnic tensions card since the beginning of the war and used fear and emotions of ethnic Abkhazians and Ossetians to occupy about twenty percent of Georgia’s territory

Feeling of a military threat constantly present

During the August war in 2008, Russians demonstrated their force, and since then they have been constantly harassing the Georgian citizens in the border areas by frequently arresting and sometimes murdering civilians of the Georgian nationality. Normal everyday life in Georgia, economic growth, strengthening of democracy and reforms often fall into the shadow of the fact that only 40 kilometers from the capital Tbilisi is located the Russian military base, established without the consent of the Georgian government. Unlike Georgia, the Armenian fear of the Turkish and Azerbaijani aggression keeps the base in Gyumri present in the tri-border area between Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia. That is the reason why Georgia is naturally in the state of a constant military threat from the increasingly aggressive neighbor.

On the other side, sharing a common religion with Russians, having numerous Georgian diaspora situated in Moscow, and cultural and other ties, often lead to attempting to relativize the fact that Russia occupied a part of Georgia’s territory. Georgia used to be the major summer resort of the Soviet Union, the access to the warm sea. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia went through a period of painful transition, but after its recovery in 2004, it has become again the main foreign tourist destination of the Russians. Numerous Russian opposition parties’ members were in hiding there during the Saakashvili rule in Georgia

Change of course

After the change of power in 2012 and 2013 and the arrival of the party of a businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, the course towards Moscow has been dramatically changed; economic and even political relations have been thriving. An example of this was this year’s Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO) based in Athens, which was established in 1994 and in which work is engaged Montenegro with Strahinja Bulajic from the DF party, as its current member. The Assembly met in Tbilisi and paradoxically, it was chaired by a Russian communist Sergei Gavrilov, member of the Russian Parliament. The very presence of Gavrilov in Tbilisi, as someone who aggressively supported the occupation of Georgia’s territories in 2008, caused unrest among the public.

Gavrilov in the chair of the speaker of the Georgian Parliament

The photo of Gavrilov sitting in the chair of the speaker of the Georgian Parliament, as well as the photo of the Russian Duma’s branded folder next to the chair’s microphone in the main hall of the Parliament which were published on social networks, were enough for the opposition MPs from Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) to make a scandal in the Assembly and provoke disorder. Then, gathered protestors almost lynched Gavrilov on his road to the airport.

Eye patch – the symbol of protests

Increasingly active Russian interference in Georgian politics, Sputnik’s presence in Tbilisi, the Russian support to the extreme right movement, as well as spreading disinformation on the U.S. Army running a biochemical weapons laboratory in one of the suburbs of Tbilisi, resulted in the progressive Georgians losing patience and going out to protest.

After several cases of police brutality, the protests spread and numerous NGO activists supported the revolt. One demonstrator losing eye made an eye patch the symbol of the protest, demanding resignation of the interior minister and end of the tolerant policy towards Russian politicians who support the occupation of Georgia’s territory.

The symbol of the protests, Photo: Reuterss

The Russian media immediately launched the campaign of characterizing protests as an outbreak of Russophobia and ethnic hatred, while the staged attack on the crew of the government’s TV channel Rossiya reached front pages of the Russian pro-government media. However, at the protests, many Russians could be seen on social networks joining the protestors, following many Russian opposition media reporters such as Dozhd, who freely reported in Russian from the central point of the protest, without anyone threatening their security, but on the contrary.

Official Kremlin’s reaction – boycott

Soon after the beginning of the protest, the first official reaction of Kremlin followed. All commercial flights to Georgia were banned, right before the beginning of the tourist season. In this way, Moscow sought to harm the Georgian economy. Very soon, the Georgian wine became not acceptable for the Russian standards, just like our Vranac during the Montenegrin NATO accession in 2017.

Interesting is the way in which the neighboring Armenia and Belarus took advantage of the situation. The Yerevan airport was offered as an alternative, while on social networks was posted an unofficial advertisement of the Belarus airline Belavia with the slogan: We take you to the countries your President is arguing with, following the connecting flights from Moscow via Minsk to Tbilisi, Kyiv, and Kharkov.

In addition, the Georgian activists launched the #spendyoursummeringeorgia campaign, which is still active and which is an excellent platform for exchanging impressions from their earlier trips to Georgia, with photos of incredibly beautiful landscapes, cuisine, and culture in general of the country.

Reckless or planned act?

Soon after the mass protests, the opposition Rustavi2 television saw the Georgian journalist Giorgi Gabunia, author of the political show P.S. (Postscriptum), starting without any reason his show in Russian and talking about the Russian President and deceased members of his family with lot of obscenities. The reaction of the Georgian society, which according to some was staged, was surprising for many. Although Putin is considered an occupier, such level of public discourse even when it is directed to an enemy, has no place in Georgian culture.

Nika Gavarami, director of Rustavi 2, Photo: RFERL

It is questionable whether something like this was expected, but it is unusual that protestors appeared in front of Rustavi2 television demanding the discharge of the journalist and the resignation of Nika Gvaramia, Rustavi2 TV director. Reckless, and according to some maybe planned, this act of Giorgi Gabunia led the Prime Minister and the President of Georgia to the situation of apologizing to someone who does not deserve it at all.

The journalist was fired almost immediately, and in July the court in Strasbourg reached the immediate verdict by which the Rustavi2 was returned to its previous owner, who announced the dismissal of Gvaramia. Many doubted that Gvaramia, knowing about the inevitability of such court decision, designed the strategy in advance to maintain his position in the TV station. If so, it is inapprehensible why the man was ready, because of his personal interests, to undermine his country’s position in a very complicated relation with the aggressive neighbor he often criticized.

These days, foreign and some domestic media have been writing about the hacking of a major contractor of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), and the stealing of 7.5 terabytes of data.

The news on SyTech, system breach was broken on July 19 on the Russian BBC portal, and later it was taken by other foreign and domestic media. According to the writing, a group of hackers under the name 0v1ru$ breached the SyTech’s system on July 13, leaving a Yoba Face[1] on the site – emoji frequently used in trolling.

Screenshot of the hacked Twitter account

On the day of hacking, the group posted on its Twitter account of the same name (@0v1ruS) several screenshots showing the whole hacking process. Besides exposing e-mails and names of the SyTech’s employers, hackers unveiled several projects such as Арион, Реляция, Гривна. Soon after, the Twitter account was deleted.

According to the Russian BBC, 0v1ru$ group shared all the data with the largest hacking group the Digital Revolution, which then forwarded the data to the media. It is strange that the Digital Revolution has begun posting screenshots of the data it possesses on July 18, since it is known that the breach occurred on July 13.

Thus, the Russian BBC came to possession of several SyTech’s projects, among which there are projects related to de-anonymization of the users of the Tor browser (project named Наутилус-C and ordered by the Russian Research Institute Kvant), the social media scraping[2] such as Facebook, Myspace and LinkedIn (project named Наутилус, but it is unknown who ordered it), as well as to the creation of a program that accumulates and visualizes information on how the Russian segment of the Internet is connected to the global network (project named Надежда ordered by the military unit No. 71330).

Recall April this year when members of the Russian State Duma voted for the Sovereign Internet Bill enabling the Russian Internet (Runet) to operate independently from the World Wide Web in the event of an emergency or foreign threat. The bill amends the laws On Communications and On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection, and it should enter into force in November this year. Until today, we have not seen any statements from either FSB or SyTech on this hackers’ attack.


[1] Stands for Youth Oriented, Bydlo-Approved Face

[2] The term indicates the process of taking down the content from the Internet. This software technique mostly focuses on converting unstructured data on the network (usually in HTML form) into structured data that can be saved and analyzed in a central data base or a spreadsheet.

The key to promoting and advertising content on the Internet is the creation of the Internet “traffic”. The media outlets, in fighting for survival and profit on the online market, often use clickbait as a tool – sensationalist headlines, the content of which mostly does not correspond to the following text. The clickbait uses natural human curiosity and is created to gain the financial interest, i.e. increased readership. To put it simply, a clickbait offers more than it can give.

Headlines, such as: “You won’t believe it”, “You have to check this out”, “What happened will shock you” are the most common examples of “click baits”, that allegedly offer exclusive content to readers.

Importance of the headlines has become more significant than ever, and its significance was best described by David Ogilvy, who said that five times more people read only the headlines rather than the text itself. “Once you write a good headline, 80 per cent of your dollar has already been spent”, said Ogilvy, who is, according to Time Magazine, the most wanted wizard of the advertising industry.

The clickbait phenomenon is well familiar in the regional media world – we identified and analyzed 126 clickbait headlines in the period from March 15th till May 25th. The portals registered on the territory of Serbia are the loudest ones in promoting such articles.

When it comes to the columns where such content has been published, most commonly those are politics (38), news (31), region (15), and Kosovo (12), which represent 76% of the analysed clickbait headlines.

When it comes to the type of article, the most dominant are reports (70) and statements (42), which together account for 80% of the total analysed clickbait headlines.

The analysed texts mostly concerned the aspects of security (44) and values (44), while the least attention was given to the economy (9).

When it comes to key narratives, we identified 11, and those are: Montenegro has lost its sovereignty by joining NATO (5), Montenegro is a captured state (9), East vs. West (42), Montenegro is a crime state (5), NATO is an aggressive alliance (5), the Western Balkans is an unstable region (19), depleted uranium is harmful (4), the Western Balkans is under the control of the West (19), Russia is the biggest friend of Serbia (7), Serbs in Montenegro are endangered (2) and creating Greater Albania (9).

When it comes to the topics, we identified 6 key topics: NATO (35), Belgrade – Pristina dialogue (21), regional cooperation and relations (16), the Montenegrin society (21), international relations (18) and the EU (4).

Within the most frequent topic – NATO – there are 8 narratives with the intent of spreading, and those are: Montenegro has lost its sovereignty by joining NATO (3), Montenegro is a captured state (1), East vs. West (12), NATO is an aggressive Alliance (4), the Western Balkans is an unstable region (3), depleted uranium is harmful (4), the Western Balkans is under the control of the West (5) and Russia is the biggest friend of Serbia (3).

Within the topic Belgrade – Pristina dialogue there are 4 narratives with the intent of spreading, such as: the region is under the control of the West (5), East vs. West (2), the Western Balkans is an unstable region (12) and creating Greater Albania (2).

Within the topic regional cooperation and relations, there are five narratives with the intent of spreading: East vs. West (5), the Western Balkans is an unstable region (2), the Western Balkans is under the control of the West (2), Serbs in Montenegro are endangered (1) and creating Greater Albania (6).

Within the topic Montenegrin society there are 7 narratives with the intent of spreading, and those are: Montenegro is a captured state (8), the Western Balkans is under the control of the West (2), creating Greater Albania (1), Montenegro has lost its sovereignty by joining NATO (2), East vs. West (3), Montenegro is a crime state (4) and Serbs in Montenegro are endangered (1).

Within the topic of the international relations, there are 2 narratives with the intent of spreading, and those are: East vs. West (15) and Russia is the biggest friend of Serbia (3).

Within the topic other there are 4 narratives with the intent of spreading, and those are: East vs. West (5), the Western Balkans is an unstable region (2), the Western Balkans is under the control of the West (3) and NATO is an aggressive Alliance (1).

Keywords

Conclusions:

  • Within the period from March 15th till May 25th we identified and analysed 126 clickbait articles.
  • The most dominant type of article was a report.
  • The analysed texts concerned both security and values aspects.
  • Within the articles that were the subject matter of the analysis, we identified 6 key topics and 11 narratives.
  • When it comes to the topics, the most dominant ones were NATO and Belgrade – Pristina dialogue, while the most frequent narratives were East vs. West, the Western Balkans under the control of the West and the Western Balkans is an unstable region.
  • The most frequent words were: Kosovo, NATO and Montenegro.

Soon after the rise of the “popularity” sites, about which was written in the first text,  marketing companies and experts, in order to prevent to be defrauded and to pay fake influencers for marketing services, have developed their own tools for „quality“ and „authenticity“ check of followers and likes. So that today with a small amount of money and using websites such as fakelikes.info you may check “the quality” of Instagram and Facebook influencers, or the number of their real and fake profiles that followers and likes them, compared to the number of profiles artificially created and purchased through different online shops.

Currently, for us, it is maybe the case of a businessman, Dusko Knezevic – who opted for Instagram as a political communication channel with the public – the most interesting, particularly for two reasons.

First is the anomaly noticed in December 2018 when Dusko Knezevic on the photo posted on December 14 had 156 likes, while on the photo posted just a day after, i.e. on December 15, had 2,130 likes. For us who deal with social networks, it was clear that such leaps in the number of likes do not happen overnight, so that was the “alarm” for more detailed research.

The second reason is a typical example of bot profiles misuse in order to make a fake performance of support and popularity, when actually it was a common purchase of bot profiles and journalistic irresponsibility to report on unverified data, as was the case with portals slobodacg.me and in4s.net.

For the reason of the topic of this Magazine issue, we did the quality analysis of Instagram profile @dkatlas.

Let’s begin with the engagement rate (ER), which represents the total number of people commenting on or liking the posts compared to the total number of followers. In the case of this profile, it is about 4.97%. When bot profiles commenting on and liking the content are removed, it remains a so-called real engagement rate (real ER) which amounts to only 0.5% and represents comments and likes coming from real accounts, i.e. people.

When it comes to the followers, at the moment of the analysis, there were 60,772 followers; however, between 5,100 and 11,300 followers represent actually real accounts.

Likewise, out of the average 2,960 likes per post on the last 12 posts, a total of 2,667 (90%) likes constitute likes from bot profiles, i.e. fake likes.

Compared to the accounts with a similar number of followers, the @dkatlas account has 4.9 times lower engagement rate. As is stated on the site fakelikes.info, if an account has at least 2 times lower engagement rate than the accounts with the similar number of followers, then it is most probably about fake accounts and followers.

The post from May 24 – “DK AT THE BRITISH PARLIAMENT at the panel on Western Balkans” – is dominated by fake comments, as many as 93.1%, what may be seen from the mere overview of the “comments” section below the photo.

Almost the same situation may be seen on other posts of the analyzed profile, whether it is about likes or comments.

The analyzed profile of Dusko Knezevic is only one example of the possibility to buy followers, the number of likes, the number of views of video contents. All this has opened the additional space for misuse on social media.

Fake followers and likes have always been explicitly contrary to Instagram’s Regulations and Terms and Conditions. This platform has started its war against fake activity long ago, using tools which instantly identify accounts using popularity purchase sites, and removing comments and likes gotten in such way.

The issue of trolls and bots is present on the Internet since the existence of public communication platforms, from chatting to social media. The problem is that these terms are poorly understood and very often misused both in everyday life and in professional communication.

Let us begin with trolling, named after a troll, a malicious creature from Norse mythology, a demon who makes people behave destructively. It is similar to fairies in Slavic mythology.

Trolls on the Internet is the name for users whose comments and messages on public Internet platforms create emotional reactions in people, often initiating long discussions and stream of reactions. The motivation for such behavior on social media may be fun, but most often there is an agenda behind it, usually with the political background.

In Montenegro, the well-known troll page is Stari Liberal with over 17 thousand followers, but there are also many others. Stari Liberal has a secret political agenda and with its publications, it triggers off the reactions of certain ethnic and religious minorities. Its activities influence significantly the creation of public opinion in one part of the public opposition.

The internet bot, also known as the web robot, WWW robot or simply bot, is a software application that launches automated tasks (scripts) via the Internet and may be used for good purposes, such as SIRI on iOS platform or numerous other virtual assistants on Android operating system. Most frequently, bots execute tasks which are simple and structurally repetitive, on a much higher level than it would be possible for a person to do it. However, for this text, it is interesting the use of bots for political purposes.

In our region, bot is usually the term incorrectly used for party activists who are organized in their offices to comment on social media or portals. Sometimes they do it anonymously, and sometimes from their real accounts. In that context, it is more about trolls and not about bots which represent artificial intelligence, while the mentioned activists are real persons no matter whether they have real or fake profiles on social media.

One of the examples of incorrect use, and at the same time the terminology misunderstanding example, was seen in December 2018 when in the public appeared the news from the session of the Executive Committee of the Serbian Progressive Party (SPP), at which the relevant party member in charge of the Internet team published an annual report stating that the SPP had 3,456 persons who had written for one year 10 million comments on over 200,000 published news. Actually, portals such as Al Jazeera Balkans and Danas, reported on this using the term “party bot” in the context of a party soldier assigned to leave comments on web portals and social media. As was already stated, here is more about trolls than about bots (a software).

Over the last years, bots have become an inevitable part of online life. It is considered that over 50% of Internet traffic makes exactly these automated programs designed to execute automated tasks. Only last year researches estimated that Twitter alone was home to over 30 million of them; however, they also do exist on other platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram. Some of them are designed in a way to provoke on purpose or to support certain political candidates and ideas, while others are used for commercial purposes.

Though there are many types of bots, “bot-like activity” is typically used only in reference to Twitter. Retweeting things hundreds of times a day, spamming the same link repeatedly, and using multiple accounts to amplify the same message are all good indicators of bot-like activity, but it does not necessarily mean that the account is a bot.

Misuse of social media

We witness many forms of misuse of social media, platforms, and modern communication types (Viber, WhatsApp) for different purposes, from political to economic and financial, in terms of the damaging reputation of business competition by spreading disinformation.

The possibility to buy followers, number of likes, number of views of video content has opened the additional space for social media misuse. Large companies and marketing agencies more frequently refer to so-called “influencers” as a channel type for advertising and messaging. It has opened an entire market in otherwise creative IT sector, which for a short period of time found a program solution so that anyone with a small amount of money can become an “influencer”. Websites such as Buzzoid offer services of online purchase of likes and followers; one may even purchase a number of views of video content on Instagram. Such and similar websites for online purchase of “popularity” exist almost for all social media, but the misuse most frequently happens on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. In this business, as in many others, the rule is “you get what you pay for”, thus the amount of money you are ready to pay determine not only the number of your followers and likes but also the quality of bot profiles following you. If you are ready to pay a larger amount of money, the Internet portals will provide you followers with real names and of geographic origin similar to yours, while for a smaller amount of money you will get followers mostly from India and China, who are of weaker quality, so that even an unskilled person is able to realize that it is a bot profile.

Source: Buzzoid.com

Soon after the rise of these “popularity” sites, marketing companies and experts, in order to prevent to be defrauded and to pay fake influencers for marketing services, have developed their own tools for „quality“ and „authenticity“ check of followers and likes. So that today with a small amount of money and using websites such as fakelikes.info you may check “the quality” of Instagram and Facebook influencers, or the number of their real and fake profiles that follows and likes them, compared to the number of profiles artificially created and purchased through different online shops.

Currently, for us, it is maybe the case of Dusko Knezevic the most interesting, who opted for Instagram as a political communication channel with the public. For the needs of our Magazine, and as a reaction to the writing of portals in4s.net and slobodacg.me, we have done a detailed analysis of his Instagram profile.

For us who deal with social media, it is clear that these leaps in the number of likes do not happen overnight, and that was the “alarm” for more detailed research.

In the photos below, you may see a typical example of bot profiles misuse in order to make a fake performance of support and popularity, what in reality turned out to be a common purchase of bot profiles and journalistic irresponsibility to report on unverified and made up data.

Linking social media with portals has proven to be a powerful weapon for spreading propaganda. Posting on social media is still very anonymous, or it is very hard to trace those who post content on social media, while portals which want to spread a certain type of propaganda refrain themselves from responsibility by “taking” content from social media as a relevant source of information. Additionally, the accountability for posting content on social media, particularly for political purposes, is not clearly defined by law. The election silence prescribed by the laws of Montenegro cannot be applied on the Internet, and we have witnessed all this during previous election cycles.

Examples of misuse

There are numerous examples of misuse and spread of unverified information in mainstream media, when in fact mainstream media did not make additional content check-up or published it on purpose, even though they are aware that it may be disinformation.  Such an example happened during the 2015 opposition protests in Montenegro when after the police breaking up of one of the protests, the opposition FB page “Sloboda trazi ljude” posted a photo of alleged injuries caused to protestors with rubber bullets by the police. This news flooded the media in a couple of minutes, even though a simple Google search could reveal a real source of that photo. This time, the photo was “borrowed” from Kosovo, from riots happening there, which was presented within a couple of minutes and with the help of Facebook and media as the 2015 protest’s breaking up.

The considerable activity of the famous Putin’s bot and troll factory from St. Petersburg was noticed many times both in the media and the Internet space of Serbia. Serbia is for a long time in “the Russian focus” as the most important country for achieving the Russian influence in the Balkans, and consequently the Russian media and Internet “machinery” gives special attention to this country. The factory from St. Petersburg, in which several hundreds of people in two shifts of twelve hours write thousands of political comments, reached the headlines of all international media after the testimony of Lyudmila Savchuk, an internet activist, who worked for two months on a secret mission in the abovementioned “factory” and wrote blog posts with the aim of turning Russians against the West. In later investigations, the very factory was directly connected with the Russian “special media wars” waged in Ukraine, Syria, in Crimea, and so on, with special attention paid to meddling in the American Elections and the elections in several European countries. The activities of this factory have been noticed many times even in the Serbian Internet space, but we would like to single one activity out as a typical example of misuse of emotions for political purposes.

Actually, at the end of December 2016, a terrible aircraft crash occurred in Russia where people from the whole ensemble of the famous army choir “Alexandrov” lost their lives; the army choir Russia was so proud of and promoted it as one of the national symbols and “ambassadors” of the Russian culture. On December 30 of the same year, the basketball club from Belgrade Crvena Zvezda had a match where their supporters honored the fatalities by chanting one of the choral songs. That heart-touching gesture of the supporters Delije found its way within a couple of minutes to almost all Russian portals, from RT to others. Apart from the Russian, all Serbian portals reported on this emotion-provoking news, honoring one of the national symbols of Russia.

However, during these very events, it is created the ideal space for sending political messages of brotherhood and unity of the two nations.

That day, one could find on the Internet thousands of messages, cleverly created and designed to get the affection of the Serbian people. Likewise, a large number of Russians had suddenly started to write as if they were from Serbia, all in the moment of expressed emotions because of the unfortunate and terrible event.

What are the messages that Russia is sending?

1. Russia is strong! It is no more the 1999. No more weak and the West-inclined Yeltsin. Now, there is Putin and he is strong, so as Russia.

2. NATO is a criminal organization. NATO is to blame for all (do not join NATO).

3. Kosovo will be Serbian again, as Crimea is Russian, just stay with us because we are strong now.

If these messages are considered closely, it is noticeable that they reflect exactly the official policy of Kremlin towards Serbia. They get advantage from the frozen conflicts with Kosovo in order to control Serbia with their veto in the UN Security Council. Their plan for Serbia is to keep it away from NATO alliance, and that is why it was important to mention, even during this traumatic and sad event with the Alexandrov Ensemble, who is to blame for the 1999.

Not only that the Russians are direct players in the Balkans’ events, but they also offer very frequently different IT services. Through the current events regarding the “Atlas” affair, it is clear that the Russian IT experts were involved in there. The group behind the association “Gotov je”, composed of the representatives of the parties Demos, Crnogorska and Demokrate, opted for Viber – application largely popular in Montenegro – to have as many dissatisfied citizens as possible join their protests. However, what many Viber users noticed and what made the public wonder is the question why all these messages about the opposition gatherings under the title “Gotov je” were sent from numbers from abroad, particularly from Russia and Belarus. A large part of the messages the Montenegrins received was sent by Viber profiles that already had names there and that indicated the Russian origin: Anna Bratkova Dmitry Maloletkov, Alexander Alexandrov; however, there were also those sent without indicated names and from numbers starting with +7.

The power of bots and trolls lies in their ability to deceive humans. A report by RAND Corporation, an American nonprofit policy think tank, listed a number of recommendations for defending democracies in the advent of malicious bots and trolls on social media. The group’s recommendations include technical approaches such as developing and implementing more effective identification and tagging methods for bots and trolls, as well as “offline” solutions such as educating the public to be more vigilant against fake news and rumors.

Instead of relying solely on social media companies to fight this fight alone, the report recommends that countries educate their citizens on media literacy, expand and improve on content created by local trustworthy news outlets, allowing it to better compete with foreign state-sponsored propaganda, and empower influencers on social media.

The topic of NATO on the territory of Montenegro and Serbia is an inexhaustible source for various conspiracy theories, placing unverified information and disinformation.

One of those topics, which was and still is alive, not only in the media but in the public as well, is that Montenegro has not had and will not have economic benefits in terms of increased foreign direct investment since joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Guided by this and the recent writing of IN4S portal, which states that “Montenegro’s flattering to NATO has no benefits”, “no increase from the member states’ investments since joining the Alliance”, and “that Russia is the largest investor alongside Azerbaijan”, we have decided to analyze this issue, through a chronological comparison of the investments of NATO member states on one and the Russian Federation on the other side.

Data available and taken from the Central Bank of Montenegro are very clear and confirm that foreign direct investments from 2018 are much more significant compared to the ones from 2017, but also to the previous years. Specifically, among NATO member states, the biggest investors were: Italy – EUR 116 million, Hungary – EUR 59 million, Turkey – EUR 53 million and UK – EUR 48 million.

Since February, peaceful civic protests have been organized in Montenegro, primarily as a reaction to the scandal caused by the activities of businessman Dusko Knezevic, who has been accused of tax evasion and money laundering by the Montenegrin authorities. Knezevic accused some of the highest-ranking Montenegrin officials of complicity in the series of posts on social media and his appearances in the media.

The spontaneous action of citizens was also partly caused by the inactivity of the Montenegrin opposition. Even though the opposition parties have in principle supported the protest, some of them have been trying to take control of the entire process from the beginning. When they realized that the protest organizing committee of 26 people is immune to their attempts, they went into a concealed and open obstruction.

The Democrats have made their own version of the protest by gathering in the Montenegrin cities on the day of every protest in Podgorica, and URA made their own choreography when entering the protests with the lit torches trying to take credit for political gains.

However, the protests are going smoothly and without incidents, with demands for government to step down, for the fair elections and a more decisive fight against corruption, but with the emphasis that Montenegro’s foreign policy priorities should not be questioned. The latter was enough to alarm of the opposition, especially those who were are attached to Russia and the Russian politics.

That is why the alt-right facebook page Stari Liberal, which is according to many sources administrated by Roberto Golovic, a former Lieutenant of the Montenegrin Army and the Annapolis Naval Academy trainee, tries to undermine protests from the beginning by emphasizing examples of violence from neighboring Albania protests and the yellow vests protests in Paris.

At the same time Marko Milacic, the leader of the Prava Crna Gora, a pro-Russian party, a man whose highlighted photo on facebook is his selfie with Putin, goes to Paris and live streams broken windows and states that this is an example for protests in Montenegro.

Igor Damjanovic, an associate of the Russian Ruska rijec portal, is in the forefront of protests mentioning on his Facebook account, and recently joined by the deputies Nebojsa Medojevic and Slaven Radunovic as well as a large number of activists of the Democratic Front who have already openly pressured the protest organizers, by insulting and bullying them on social networks.

Damjanovic is known as a supporter of the regime in Venezuela, Lebanese Hezbollah, and former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. What is indicative for the political processes is that those radicalized activists are being accepted even by the moderate URA as people with a bit conservative attitudes but more important is that they are against the DPS.

Budimir Minic, Montenegrin lawyer and one of the organizers of the protest, was insulted and bullied by the Democratic Front and anti-NATO Freedom to the People activist, Bojan Bulatovic, for his stand on non-violent protests.

What unfortunately happens is that the number of the Democratic Front activists present at the protest is  increased and that affects the changes in the attitudes of moderate opposition party members from URA, the Democrats, and SDP. Although there is likely an honest intention of a large number of demonstrators to change Montenegro’s politics for better, a smaller part of the demonstrators have far more extreme and radical views. The problem is that the latter are more vocal and aggressive, and they are making pressure to cause problems and violence that would only hurt the aims of the protest.

Recently, after criticizing DF for calling for violence, opposition activist Petar Glendza, a history professor from Cetinje has been the target of the synchronized campaign of the Borba web portal close to DF, the Facebook page Stari Liberal, as well as the activists of the Front, like Zoran Pestoric.

One of the narratives of activists and supporters of the Front spreads ethnic and religious hatred. Thus, organizers of protests that are not Orthodox Christians are ridiculed because of their Bosniak or Albanian names.

Strado Turovic, Medojevic’s party activist, Spasoje Tomić, the activist of the Front, and lieutenant Roberto Golovic, who allegedly stands behind the Stari Liberal,  are at the forefront of the attacks of this type.

Most of those activists regularly communicate with internet warriors from Serbia like the Nemanja Ristić, accused of participating in 2016 coup attempt, the ultra-right Zavetnici movement, but also they regularly participate in the seminars and activities organized by the right-wing movements in Europe and by the Government of the Russian Federation.

I. Damjanovic (second on the left) with Milica Djurdjevic, leader of the Zavetnici movement, while visiting the Russian Federation Council

It remains to be seen whether the protest organizers will remain independent and true to their goals, or will they surrender to the strong pressure of those who see the alternative to our politics in societies where for their protest activities they would be incarcerated in some of the penalty colonies in Siberia.

Disinformation is now without a doubt an integral part of Russian foreign policy, but even though it feels brand new it dates way back. It has a long history and it is closely tied to the birth of the KGB in the 1950s and the doctrine of active measures. These active measures (Russian: активные мероприятия) included manipulation and media control, written and oral disinformation, use of foreign communist parties and front organizations, clandestine radio broadcasting, manipulation of the economy, kidnappings, paramilitary operations, and support of guerrilla groups and terrorist organizations.

These attempts were nebulous and prolonged, and included operations like Operation Neptune – a 1964 attempt to use forged documents with the intention of implying that western politicians had supported the Nazis, and the most famous Operation Infektion – a disinformation campaign run by the KGB in the 1980s to spread information that the United States invented HIV/AIDS as part of a biological weapons research project at Fort Detrick, Maryland. When AIDS emerged in the early 1980s, Soviet bloc disinformation specialists quickly recognized the opportunity the mysterious epidemic offered and planted disinformation only months after the scientific community had coined the term “AIDS” and established the existence of a causative virus. The Soviet Union used it to undermine the United States’ credibility, foster anti-Americanism, isolate America abroad and create tensions between host countries and the U.S. over the presence of American military bases (which were often portrayed as the cause of AIDS outbreaks in local populations).

The groundwork appeared in the pro-Soviet Indian newspaper Patriot. An anonymous letter was sent to the editor in July 1983 from a well-known American scientist and anthropologist who claimed that AIDS was manufactured at Fort Detrick by genetic engineers. The scientist claimed that that deadly mysterious disease was believed to be the results of the Pentagon’s experiments to develop new and dangerous biological weapons, and implicated Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientists sent to Africa and Latin America to find dangerous viruses unknown to Asia and Europe. The Patriot item appeared just as AIDS was beginning to attract the attention of the international scientific and medical communities, linking the United States with what was then an unexplored public health problem.

The AIDS story exploded across the world and was repeated by Soviet newspapers, magazines, wire services, radio broadcasts, and television.

The campaign started in earnest in October 1985 after the story was ignored for two years, with the original article being republished by Soviet newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta. To provide a scientific foundation for their charge that AIDS was manmade, the Soviet Union used a pseudo-scientific paper written in 1986 by a retired Russian-born East German biophysicist named Dr. Jakob Segal, co-authored by his wife, Dr. Lilli Segal; and Dr. Ronald Dehmlow at Humboldt University of East Berlin. The report was quoted heavily by Soviet propagandists, and the Segals (who were educated in France) were often said to be French researchers to hide their connections with communism. Dr. Segal postulated that the AIDS virus was synthesized by combining parts of two distantly related retroviruses: VISNA and HTLV-1.

In the report, Segal said that his hypothesis was based purely on assumptions, extrapolations, and hearsay and not at all on direct scientific evidence.

The Segal theory repeatedly has been dismissed by leading Western and Soviet AIDS experts, including Dr. Luc Montagnier, director of the Paris-based Pasteur Institute and Dr. Viktor Zhdanov, the U.S.S.R. top AIDS expert and chief of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Medical Sciences Ivanovskiy Institute of Virology. Dr. Zhdanov told a TASS correspondent that the AIDS virus has not been obtained artificially. Nevertheless, Segal’s allegations continue to circulate, primarily in Soviet, South Asian and African media.

In an effort to undermine U.S. defense arrangements with allied countries, create pressures for the removal of U.S. military facilities overseas, and further exploit of anti-U.S. sentiment, Moscow has warned countries that U.S. military personnel stationed at U.S. military facilities pose a public health danger to local populations. For example, the Soviet newspaper Sovyetskaya Rossiya (January 23, 1987) asserted that in Western Europe, most AIDS cases were registered in the places where U.S. troops were stationed. TASS (February 12, 1987) reported panic in Japan and that local businesses were closing their doors to U.S. military personnel; a subsequent TASS report (February 17, 1987) alleged that they were notorious for their loose morals and were spreading AIDS in South Korea. Sovyetskaya Rossiya (March 15, 1987) attributed the spread of AIDS in the Philippines to the presence of U.S. military personnel in that country. Local communist and government-controlled newspapers in Latin America (Nicaragua and Panama, for example) have picked up the charges as well, blaming U.S. soldiers for the spread of AIDS in the region.

In the late 1980s, AIDS began spreading through the Soviet Union, and Moscow developed a greater interest in exchanging medical research on the subject than it had a few years before. Because the AIDS disinformation campaign jeopardized cooperation with US scientists, Moscow began to listen to Washington’s complaints. Shortly thereafter, the Soviet Academy of Sciences, through the government’s official newspaper Izvestia, disavowed the thesis that AIDS was artificially created.

The end of the Cold War threw the KGB into disarray, but the damage was already done – once a rumor takes root, it is nigh on impossible to eradicate it entirely, and the myths planted by Operation Infektion were no exception. It wasn’t until 1992 that the director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Yevgeny Primakov, conceded that the KGB had instigated and perpetuated the myth.

In 2005, a study by the RAND Corporation and Oregon State University revealed that nearly 50% of African Americans thought AIDS was man-made, over 25% believed AIDS was a product of a government laboratory, 12% believed it was created and spread by the CIA, and 15% believed that AIDS was a form of genocide against black people.

The use of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to communicate and share information has made us more connected, but on the other hand, it made us prone to consuming, sharing and believing in unverified information posing as facts, such as AIDS originated in the U.S.

Putin acknowledged the importance and potential of the Internet and social networks, so that is why active measures are once again in use, this time updated for digitally interconnected information space.

Even though active measures date back to the KBG era, they offer perfect explanations and reasons behind the biggest disinformation campaigns conducted by Russia in the modern era, from the illegal annexation of Crimea, the elections meddling around the world and now the anti-vaccination campaign – yet another public health problem connected to Kremlin. The anti-vaccine movement has proliferated over recent years, in part because of its most vocal proponents using social media to churn out often misleading information.

The retrospective observational study, assessing the impact of bots and trolls on online vaccine discourse on Twitter from 2014 to 2017 was published by the American Journal of Public Health in October 2018. The study shows that much health disinformation is promoted by Russian bots and trolls. Twitter accounts run by automated bots and Russian trolls masqueraded as legitimate users engaging in online vaccine debates. It is noted that by posting a variety of anti, pro and neutral tweets trolls and bots they wanted to legitimize the vaccine debate. These accounts post content about vaccination at significantly higher rates than does the average user with a goal to promote discord rather than favor one side of the vaccine debate. Exposure to the vaccine debate erodes public trust in healthcare providers and leads people to delay vaccination, exposing us to the risk of epidemics, said dr Broniatowski, one of the authors of the study, adding that just amplifying the debate can, therefore, have real consequences.

This analysis is supplemented by a qualitative study of #VaccinateUS – a Twitter hashtag designed to promote discord using vaccination as a political issue. The #VaccinateUS tweets were uniquely identified with the Russian troll accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-backed operation specializing in online influence operations.

One tweet casting doubt on vaccines cited in the study read: Did you know there was a secret government database of #Vaccine-damaged child? #VaccinateUS.

Another that argued for vaccinations said: #VaccinateUS You can’t fix stupidity. Let them die from measles, and I’m for #vaccination!

Sometimes the same account would take two sides of the same issue.

In April 2017, an account named Baldwin tweeted this anti-vaccine sentiment: Vaccine dangers are hidden from parents by the FDA using a simple TRICK – make the placebo as toxic as the vaccine so both have = reactions.

A month later Baldwin seems to have switched positions.

WHO recommends vaccination with 1st dose of #hepatitisB vaccine within the first 24 hours of life #VaccinesWork, the account tweeted in May.

Dr. Broniatowski tells for Radio Free Europe he has seen no evidence of Russia’s trying to weaken Western democracies by persuading people to stop vaccination. Rather, the known trolls masqueraded as legitimate users on social media and debated vaccines as part of their strategy to promote political polarization.

At Duke University in North Carolina, people within The Forge (center for scientific health data) are working and trying to understand and respond to health-related disinformation on the Internet. Director of the Forge, Robert Califf, a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, has said that medical misinformation may be the issue of our times that demands top priority and that a large number of the social-media posts represent state-sponsored cyber warfare, particularly from Russia.

In order to understand why, we need to depart from disinformation per se, focus on the bigger picture and realize the grand agenda. Since the illegal annexation of Crimea, the relations between the West and Russia plunged to their lowest point since the Cold War. The Russian modern world, Putinism (Russia under Putin) feels vulnerable and not compelling compared to the West and western values. Inside Russia, we are likely to witness the continued rejection of the pillars of the European democracy, including civil society activism, freedom of speech and political pluralism, adding on top of that the most recent Internet laws adopted by the Duma. Fixing the problem would mean changing the authoritarian system and rule, which is not likely to happen. The only other suitable option is to weaken the West, through non-traditional war or hybrid warfare, that is adapted to the modern world, unlike the conventional weapons, using cyber operations, disinformation campaigns, weaponized crime, economic sanctions, energy dependence, etc. Same goal, just different methods from what we have seen during the XX century, especially throughout the Cold War. Active measures were the heart of Soviet operations, hybrid measures are the heart of Russian operations today.

That all of the abovementioned is not the mere speculation, proves the statement of the former KGB General Oleg Kalugin:

Not intelligence collection, but subversion: active measures to weaken the West, to drive wedges in the Western community alliances of all sorts, particularly NATO, to sow discord among allies, to weaken the United States in the eyes of the people of Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and thus to prepare ground in case the war really occurs. To make America more vulnerable to the anger and distrust of other peoples.

The anti-vaccination issue is so grave that the World Health Organization included it in their Ten Threats to Global Health in 2019 alongside with air pollution and climate change, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, HIV, the world flu pandemic, vulnerable and vulnerable environment (exposed with droughts, hunger, conflicts and similar hazards), antimicrobial resistance, resistance to antibiotics and antiviral drugs, Ebola and other high risk pathogens, and poor primary health care.

Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease – it currently prevents 2-3 million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved – it is stated in the WHO report.

It also highlights the dangers that anti-vaxxers present, including as an example a 30 per cent increase in recorded cases of measles around the world. Vaccination hesitancy, as stated by the WHO, threatens to destroy the progress of catching up with vaccine-preventable diseases.

According to the World Health Organization cases of measles in Europe have hit a record high in the first six months of 2018.

When it comes to Europe, more than 41,000 people have been infected in the first six months of 2018, leading to 37 deaths, which is almost the double from the whole 2017, when there were 24.000 registered cases and 5.200 in 2016. Experts blame this surge on a drop in the number of people being vaccinated.

Ukraine and Serbia are among the countries with the highest rates in Europe.

Anti-vaxxers and anti-vaccination players in the Western Balkans

1. Vakcine INFO

The portal vakcinainfo.org and the Facebook page Vakcine INFO represent the project of the association Građanska inicijativa za neobaveznu vakcinaciju, aiming at informing citizens in Serbia and the region on the whole truth about vaccines, as well as providing lesser-known information on safety, effectiveness, and justification of vaccinations. The individual membership application form of the Association may be bought at the website vakcinacinfo.org, while the membership fee covers the expenses of the legal entity status amounted to RSD 1,200 for the calendar year of 2018.

Among posts on the website, there are reactions to opinions of an epidemiologist and a doctor, Zoran Radovanovic MC, also called a legal charlatan. Dr. Radovanovic is accused of giving, as they say, an inexpert opinion, as well as of making pressure upon citizens with his ruthless excoriation. In his text Infections, courts and vaccines published on November 16, 2017, at the media portal Danas, Dr. Radovanovic defends medicine and vaccination and calls on all the citizens to let go of the conspiracy theorists.

The association Građanska inicijativa za neobaveznu vakcinaciju has also its own Facebook page named Vakcine INFO followed by 17,842 users. This page is very active and posts photos, videos, and posts, then researches and analysis of certain doctors, quack doctors and healthcare institutions providing negative vaccine narratives, all in the attempt to raise public awareness on adversary effect of vaccination and consequences it bears.

This page has recently posted a photo with a list of vaccines, medicaments and cosmetic products containing cells or parts of aborted babies. However, this photo does not have a source and a piece of information on where they obtained this data. Some other photo posted under the title Da li ste znali?, reading that polysorbate 80 found in many vaccines is a preservative, does not also have precise data on its source.

Via the Facebook page, this initiative gives its continuing support to Jovana Stojkovic, a doctor prosecuted before the Court of Honor of the Regional Medical Chamber in Belgrade on charges that her public statements caused the decrease of vaccination coverage and resulted in the measles outbreak in Serbia. Dr. Jovana Stojkovic is also one of the authors whose texts may be found on the website vakcinainfo.org. Besides this case, the Facebook page Vaccine INFO gave support to Lidija Gaski, a doctor from Croatia and another fierce advocate for the right to freedom of choice regarding vaccination, which is legally binding in this country.

2. Pravo na izbor

The portal pravonaizbor.rs and its related Facebook page are created to question the justification of mandatory vaccination in the Republic of Serbia, on the grounds of numerous legal, health, ethical and other arguments. The Facebook page, putting vaccines solely in a negative context, warning against the pharmaceutical mafia and calling on all people to be informed before (non-)vaccination, is followed by 9,876 Facebook users.

On its portal, this Association emphasizes that vaccines may contain parts of aborted babies, human or animal DNA, aluminium and mercury, at the same time not stating how they got into possession of that data, and therefore the public is prevented from the whole information.

On its Facebook page, Pravo na izbor posted that NATO in its book Immunological Adjuvants[1] and Vaccines has characterized vaccines as a biological weapon.

The posted photo emphasizes that the abovementioned book on page 37 says: Vaccines cause autoimmune diseases. As an adjuvant, aluminum increases the production of certain antibodies, causing allergies and anaphylactic shock.

The analysis of the whole above mentioned book and the extracted page 37 showed that there is nowhere a similar phrase formulation to this one. Even syntagmatic unit biological weapon is not mentioned in this study.

It is important to mention that the book Immunological Adjuvants and Vaccines is published in 1989, so even if the information to which the organization Pravo na izbor refers is correct, it would be doubtful to rely on the research 30 years old, particularly when it comes to the field of medicine.

Presenting such information aims at deceiving the public and raising panic about sensitive topics.

3. Dr. Jovana Stojković

Dr. Jovana Stojkovic, who publicly and openly stands against the vaccination of children both on her Facebook page and in the TV shows, has been filed a lawsuit in December 2018 before the Court of Honor of the Regional Medicine Chamber; they also requested her medical license to be revoked. At the same time, she is the president of the citizens’ association Pravo na izbor and the movement Živim za Srbiju.

At the Živim za Srbiju campaign’s website – the website presenting measures and changes they strive for in the system of the society and the state – there is a special channel where Dr. Stojkovic presents her stances on the fight against vaccination, as well as other combats such as maintenance of a traditional family image, fight against LGBT population, the surrender of the Serbian Kosovo and Metohija, etc.

This campaign has also its Facebook page which often deals with the NATO topic. As stated in one of the posts, during 78 days of radioactive uranium bombing, 79 children were killed.

In one of their posts on the Facebook page, Dr. Stojkovic poses the following question to people: Before you were against the American shells! Now you fight for the American vaccines?

Source: Facebook

Besides anti-vaccination speeches, she gives, very frequently, anti-NATO and anti-West speeches in public, praising Russia as an ally which should be addressed for help. On her Facebook page, she organized and called on numerous protests both the anti-vaccination protests and the ones related to current issues – NATO, the LGBT people, Kosovo.

Actually, on May 14, 2017, the first Sveroditeljski protest (All-parents’ protest) was organized under the auspices of the citizens’ association Ja volim mamu i tatu.

Why this particular protest was very interesting to us is not for the reason it was organized, but for the fact that one of its speakers was actually Dr. Jovana Stojkovic, while one of the protesters was Radomir Pocuca, who was introduced in the previous issue of our Magazine when writing about Yellow vest protesters in Paris and their connections with the fighters in Ukraine. Pocuca fought for the Russian interests in Donbas and, as he said himself, against the evil threatening his holy motherland Russia. Following the plea bargain, he pleaded guilty before the Serbian Prosecution and was convicted to a prison term of one year and a half and five years of parole.

R. Pocuca attending Sveroditeljski protest

[1] A substance enhancing the immune system of a body to respond to antigens.

The use of social networks, such as Twitter, has significantly changed the interaction in the politician-voter relation. In this manner, the officials have become more available to the public, but, on the other hand, the use of Twitter in political purposes has enabled faster exchange of important information.

This analysis, in the context of fake news and Twitter, deals with the phenomenon of “fake” followers among the most prominent actors of the political scene on the Western Balkans, who have own accounts on this social network.

For such purposes, we used one of the company’s tools SparkToro, which deals with these types of assessment based on the common methodology.

Their Fake Followers Audit combines around 25 factors which are, among others, in correlation with “spam” and bot accounts in order to provide the assessment of the followers, i.e. “fake” followers by analyzing the combination of the factors.

Some of the factors used by Fake Followers Audit

Prominent actors of the political scene, and whose accounts have been analyzed, are the presidents and prime ministers of the Western Balkans countries, except in the case of Montenegro, whose President and Prime Minister do not use this social network. Hence, we decided to analyze the leader of Pokret za promjene party – Nebojsa Medojevic, as the most active Montenegrin politician on Twitter. When it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, only one of the current three members of the Presidency has an account.

As it is presented on the chart, the Prime Minister of Albania – Edi Rama, with 332.902 followers and the President of Serbia – Aleksandar Vucic, who is followed by 288.173 people, have the greatest number of followers on Twitter. The President of Croatia – Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic is in the third place, followed by “only” 114.519 accounts. However, although they have a great number of followers, the significant part of them are “fake” followers, which is supported by the data we have found out. In the case of the Albanian Prime Minister, out of 332.902 followers 267.986, i.e. 80.5% are “fake”. The similar situation is with Serbian President. Out of 288.173 followers at the moment of conducting this analysis, 231.403, i.e. 80.3% are categorized as “fake”. On the other hand, Montenegrin MP – Nebojsa Medojevic and Prime Minister of Kosovo have the most favorable relation of “true” and “fake” followers. Medojevic is followed by 12.525 followers, out of which 36.3% are “fake” accounts, while out of 8.026 accounts that follow Haradinaj 36% are “fake”. When it comes to Montenegro, the MP Nebojsa Medojevic is followed by 12.525 followers, out of which 4.547, i.e. 36.3 are fake. Out of 14.572 accounts that make Twitter followers’ base of the Prime Minister of Macedonia Zoran Zaev, 6.543, i.e. 44.9% are fake accounts. On the other hand, when it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bakir Izetbegovic is the only one having a Twitter account, out of the three members of the Presidency, and is followed by 4.180 followers, out of which 50% of them are “fake” accounts.

Fake accounts (most often the bots) have the ability to automatically generate and post a content of the most likely non-verified rumours and disinformation, all with a view to deceiving the social media users.

The motivation for further research was found in the Kiev Post‘s article published on January 14, mentioning the alleged establishment of the Unité Continentale organization in Belgrade.

Even though this article does not provide any further information, we decided to look into it a bit. Our first clue was French newspapers and portals, giving the fact that the article relied upon the French portal La Dépêche. The truth is that La Dépêche did write on the topic of French Donbass fighters, but nowhere in the article did it refer to Belgrade as a possible place of establishment of the Unité Continentale organization.

Therefore, we continue our research.

The other French portal, Libération, led us to an article from August 2014, published a week after four volunteers from France – Victor, Nikola, Guillaume and Michael – came to Ukraine to fight for Russia, all of whom are recognized as the founders of the Unité Continentale organization.

The article states that the Unité Continentale organization was established in Belgrade in January 2014, after having got in touch with the political party of Vojislav Šešelj, the Serbian Radical Party, and a nationalistic group called „Zavetnici“.

 „In Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, their paths crossed. Here is where they organized, in January, the Unité Continentale organization.“

It was with his political party (Vojislav Šešelj), the Serbian Radical Party, and another nationalistic group, Zavetnici, that „continentals“ got in touch in Belgrade.

In order to prove the credibility of this article, we paid some attention to its author Hélène Despic-Popovic. As a journalist, she was a special envoy in Donetsk for the French portal Libération. Despic-Popovic is also a specialist for the Balkans region, ex-USSR countries and Eastern Europe. She published a book under the title „Chroniques d’un génocide: Les carnets de général Mladic“ and also writes for the portal Nouvel Est – Voyage, Balkans, Caucase.

When it comes to the group „Zavetnici“, not only that it is quite politically active in Serbia and present in the media since its very founding in 2012, but its actions exist well in the territory of Montenegro, Republika Srpska, in one word in the whole Serbian diaspora.

The confirmation of their connection with the Unité Continentale organization we found on their Facebook page. The photo below shows that the Unité Continentale basically „calls on“ all citizens to participate at a gathering under the title „Serbs and Russians together through centuries“, which is organized by „Zavetnici“.

In addition, interesting is the news, reported recently in the media, announcing that the group „Zavetnici“ expressed their wish to form a political party.

Further research on the Unité Continentale organization led as to an article from June 2018, published on the Radio Slobodna Evropa portal, in which it is mentioned its establishment in Belgrade and pointed out to a number of Serbian people who were its members and who were convicted before Belgrade’s High Court in 2018.

Actually, the document provided to the Radio Slobodna Evropa by the General Prosecution of Ukraine, as a response to the enquiry concerning Serbian fighters in Ukraine, states among other things that the Unité Continentale organization was established in summer 2014 and that among 54 investigated persons there were 6 Serbs, all identified as its members.

They are Radomir Pocuca, Zoran Kljajic, Stevan Milosevic, Stefan Celavi, Ivan Mackic and Bratislav Zivkovic. All of them are labelled as the Ukrainian battlefield mercenaries on the Ukrainian website „Myrotovrets“– a website made in the connection with the Center of Research on the Signs of Crime against National Security of Ukraine.

As early as 2014, Serbia adopted the amendments to their Criminal Procedural Code referring to the participation of Serbian nationals at foreign battlefields, and in February 2018, the Belgrade’s High Court delivered 28 convictions to Serbian nationals for the participation in Ukrainian war in 2014.

Among interesting persons from the abovementioned list, we found out that Radomir Pocuca was convicted before Belgrade’s High Court after a plea deal to a prison term of a year and a half, and four years of probation.

The other interesting person is Stevan Milosevic, whose interview for the Radio Slobodna Evropa portal from October 2018 gave us the following information.

In the interview, Milosevic does not mention in what way he came to Ukraine, but he does mention that he came into contact via a Facebook page with an organization in Donbass which organized him a trip to Russia. A guy from France, Nikola, also the commandant of their group, provided him and several others with airline tickets Belgrade-Moscow.

We recall that the Unité Continentale organization was established by Victor Lenta and Nikola Perovic, who is born in France of a Montenegrin father and a Serbian mother, who has both Serbian and French citizenship.

Further tracking the Unité Continentale story development, we came across Cristopher Othen, a blogger who wrote a lot about both this organization and Serbian Donbass fighters.

His blog post reveals that soon after their arrival in Novorossiya, the fight over leadership occurred between Lenta and Perovic, causing a lot of distress inside the organization. After this development, the Novorossiya authorities disbanded the group, thus putting an end to their activities. Even though few members returned home, a number of them stayed in Ukraine.

Finally, in 2018 we came across further activities on the Unité Continentale Facebook page where a new person emerges – Darko Pavlovic – who is, according to the posts, due to take the organization leadership at the end of the year.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

During the research process on the establishment place of the Unité Continentale organization, we came across its commander’s statement, Nikola Perovic’s, for the Srbin.info portal, which took us to a different direction, yet connected with the whole story.

According to his statement, one of the Unité Continentale organization members, Ivan Mackic, mentioned at the beginning of this article, came up with an idea to establish a special unit, Serbian Hussar Regiment, which was due to unite Serbian and French people. The whole story included Pocuca as well, also a former member of the organization. As things were moving in another direction for Nikola and his organization, he abandoned this idea and there is where our clue ends when it comes to Nikola’s statement anyway.

Further details about this Regiment were found in the YouTube video published in September 2017, where one of the Serbian volunteers in Novorossiya, Dejan Beric, questions Radomir Pocuca and Vlado Stanic about an alleged assassination attempt on him and the Regiment’s colonel Dragan Srdic known as Dragon.

Here, Pocuca indicates his leaving the Unité Continetal group and that during his stay in Moscow he came into contact with Ivan Mackic, with whom he started to develop the idea of the Regiment’s establishment. Getting in touch with Metropolitan Sergej, the whole idea got a more serious note and the Serbian Hussar Regiment was established.

In the beginning, the Regiment was established within the „Oplot“ unit, and there existed the idea of its independence after it evolved. During its active period, call on the fight in Ukraine was performed via a YouTube video. As for now, the further developments of this Regiment are unknown.