Disinforming citizens with a view to raising panic

The Serbian organization Pravo na izbor posted on its Facebook page that NATO, in its book Immunological Adjuvants[1] and Vaccines, marked the vaccines as a biological weapon.


The Pravo na izbor organization posted on its page an image highlighting that in this book on page 37 it says: “Vaccines cause autoimmune diseases. An aluminum which is adjuvant increases the production of certain antibodies that cause allergies and anaphylactic shock.”

An analysis of the entire mentioned book and the emphasized page 37 has shown that there is no even an approximate formulation of this, all the more, the syntagma of biological weapons is not mentioned anywhere in this study.

It is important to note that the book Immunological Adjuvants and Vaccines was published in 1989, even if the information referred to by the organization Pravo na izbor was correct, it would be questionable to rely on a 30-year-old survey, especially when it comes to the medicine field.

The distribution of such information is aimed at deceiving the public and raising panic on sensitive issues.

The portal pravonaizbor.rs, which stands behind the Facebook page of the same name has listed, in the opus of its activities, questioning the validity of compulsory vaccination in the Republic of Serbia on the basis of numerous legal, health, ethical and other arguments on the “face and back” of vaccines and vaccinations.

In the background of this story propagated by the portal and the Facebook page Pravo na izbor, emerges the case of Dr Jovana Stojković, against who the lawsuit has been filed by a group of doctors to the Court of Honor of the Regional Medical Chamber in Belgrade, asking for the revocation of her medical license for spreading panic and for public appearances, which caused a decrease in vaccination coverage and led to the epidemic of smallpox in Serbia.

[1] A substance assisting the immune system of the body to react to antigens

Asymmetric threats represent, inter alia, using weaknesses in the situations when the cracks emerge in the established system of government. Such situations are certainly periods of crisis, dissatisfaction, attitude expression through mass demonstrations, in a word, a game in which civil awareness indicates the problem.

The “yellow vest” protests may be defined as an aspiration for certain “French issues”, if we put it in a broader European context, they can be seen as an expression of dissatisfaction with perennial situation in Europe, ranging from savings measures to Brexit.

A certain part of protestors, which is not, according to our findings, so numerous for now, uses the gatherings of the “yellow vests”, as an event monitored by a wide eye of the public, in order to promote different ideas. Members of that group stand out from the rest of the protestors wearing white strips around arms, and most commonly berets and military medals.

Self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic is another pair of shoes. Or at least it should be.

The two men in the photo 1 are Fabrice Sorlin and Xavier Moreau. The first one is a member of the organization named Russia-Donbas Integration Committee ( http://russia-donbass.ru ), that deals with enhancing humanitarian, cultural and social integration of Donbas and Russia. He regularly publishes analyses for platforms Geopolitika.ru and Katehon.com, while the latter is owned by the Russian tycoon Konstantin Malofeev. The other is pro-Russian analyst, the founder of Stratpol – French platform for the analysis of international and security policies, with headquarters in Slovakia. At first sight, a completely legitimate advocating of the pro-Russian positions in the hub of Europe, but let us leave them aside for a while.

Further analysis led us to an interview with one of the “protestors” (photo 2), who turned out to be a part of the mentioned organized group, which defines itself as a buffer zone between protestors and police.

In this short interview, Lenta said that such protests (“yellow vest” protests) usually result in violence and explained to the authorities in France that it would not be caused by the protest itself, but by the police provocations. Indicating violence and his characteristic beret encouraged us to investigate deeper.

Although he introduced himself as Anthony during the protests, we recognized him to be Victor Lenta. Together with Nikola Perovic (photo 4), a French of Serbian origin (in some sources described as of Serbian-Montenegrin origin), he established the international brigade Unite Continentale, which took part in Donbas, fighting for Russia. The very members of the Brigade identify themselves as fighters against the US imperialism and work on encouraging the cooperation with Russia. It is about the ultranationalist movement, which supports French and European volunteers, who want to fight on pro-Russian separatists’ side in the Ukrainian region Donbas. Victor Lenta was parachutist in the French Army, deployed in the area of Carcassonne city. Together with Perovic he was engaged within the French Army in military missions in Chad, Afghanistan, and Gabon. Both of them, according to their statements, abandoned the Army for the same reasons – antagonism towards NATO and the USA. Truth is that Lenta was expelled from the military service for his involvement in activities of the neo-Nazi group that torched a mosque in southern France in 2008. Observing the development of the events in Paris and Victor Lenta’s appearance, we found out that he was a leader of “guardians of the order”, who protected the “yellow vests” from the repression of the police. Now the group of more than 40 members. Lenta was not inconspicuous at the “yellow vests”, given the fact that he wore a characteristic beret and military medals, the details that led us into more thorough analysis of his deeds.

Another volunteer from Donbas stands out at the protests. That is Sergei Munier, who was twice in Donbas (photo 5), the first time in 2014, within the battalion Vostok (Восток), and the second time in 2015 within the brigade Pyatnashka (Пятнашка). According to our findings, Munier was (is) a member of Pyatnashka, which is often associated with Spetsnaz. Munier wore Pyatnashka symbols during the protests in Paris (photo 6 and 7).

Analyzing his movements, we found out that most of 2018 he had spent in Russia. We know that he participated in the organization of the Russia World Cup 2018, in the first ring of security. This information is significant in the context of former French soldier, paid fighter in Donbas, who got the opportunity to be a part of Russia World Cup 2018 official organization (photo 8 and 9).

Also, he attended the International Army Games organized by the Russian Ministry of Defence. Although it is well-known that the tickets for this event could have been purchased online, Munier had a VIP ticket (photo 10), for which there was no purchasing information. Based on our analysis, he was a member of the light armored brigade, which is confirmed by his parade uniform from 2016, characteristic for members of this brigade (photo 11).

Apart from him, an ex-police officer participates in the protests in Paris, who appears in the photo with Victor Lenta taken in the occupied areas in Ukraine (in the photo of Lenta and Perović, he is the one behind Lenta). It is Mihail Takahashi, who was also active within the organization Unite Continentale in the previous years. 

Since we do not want for any product of our analysis to be based on coincidence, we will go back to the two men from the beginning of the research. We come across the evidence on Moreau and Munier friendship (photo12), which indicates to a certain level of organization, when it comes to their presence at protests and incompatibility of the messages their symbols imply and ideology of the “yellow vests”.

On the other hand, indirect connection between Munier and the Unite Continentale organization is evident through Munier and Takahashi’s mutual staying in Paris.  (photo13)

Participation of these individuals with very controversial past encourages us to continue our research. Additionally, the words of Victor Lenta contribute to this. He said that such gatherings of the citizens in the streets and roundabouts in Paris, compellingly resemble the former developments in Ukraine.

It is necessary to pay attention to the rule well-known in the theory about political sciences: militant and “allegedly ultraright wing” organizations often use mass dissatisfaction of the people to promote their aspirations and incite riots.

We will be back with more thorough analysis.

Countries that are going through a transitioning period have been facing the population outflow for years. In times of crisis and conflicts, people with higher qualifications always leave for better working conditions. Waves of emigration, especially at the beginning and at the end of the 20th century, were almost always directed towards Western Europe and the United States. Number of people that have left Russia after the 1917. Revolution up to 1921. is somewhere between 1-3 million. Uncertainty in numbers is still present due to the chaotic nature of the revolution, because of the never determined number of the people that have lost their lives, and due to the poor statistical administration at the time. After the consolidation of the Soviet power, and due to the totalitarian nature of the regime, the border became heavily controlled, which have stalled the outflow of the people in a violent manner. In the dawn of the World War II, the same destiny happened to the Baltic states, and rest of the Eastern Europe and Berlin followed after the war. Berlin Wall being the most notorious example and showcase of the people craving for freedom on one side and the frenetic will of the regime to stop them leaving the bloc on the other side. After the Wall fell, and bloc dissolved, the second wave of the emigration began in the 1991. UN estimates that Eastern Europe lost almost 6% of the population, or 18 million citizens.

With the short pause in the nineties, when borders became open and Russian media airing Western TV shows made American way of life a dream for many Russians, during Soviet times and after Putin came to power, the entire state propaganda system made huge efforts to portray a life in the West as insecure, unjust an inferior to the one in Russia.

After the revolution, a state organized propaganda was exported and used to enhance racial tensions in the United States for example. They even succeeded in attracting some people from the African-American community to emigrate to the USSR. This ideological migration has not been successful at the end. Just as the destiny of the many Western communist leaders in the Moscow hotel Lux, this story ended badly. The story of the migration of the African-American families to the USSR started to emerge again after the 2016 American Presidential elections, when the investigation of the work of the Internet Research Agency (Agenstvo Internet-issledovaniy), owned by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a close associate of Putin,  proved that one of the most important part of the propaganda strategy was to target the African-American community with the publishing of video materials that had the specific goal of radicalizing the “Black Lives Matter” movement. During these activities, the stories were used to exaggerate the racial, ethnic and other tensions in the West for the Russian public. Reporting about the European and American life was always biased with the stories of violence, and even some ordinary TV reports from the streets of Brussels, New York, Washington and London almost always featuring the homeless people, poverty, dirty and neglected streets in their reports.

Recently, the Russian media have been conducting a campaign in which they mock the civic liberties and political correctness in Western societies. Frequent topics are “mass sexual assaults committed by the migrants”, many homophobic comments about “homosexual epidemic” and similar constructs. The conflict between the left and the right is being exaggerated, and they insist in differences by portraying the political marginals as the mainstream western politics.

Most recently, Russian media started elaborating the topic of the alleged economic migration from the USA and Europe, to no less than Russia, as well as the occupied Crimea.

A few years ago, one of the stars of the famous “1000 on 1” interviews with Putin, was a British farmer from the Moscow region, John Kopiski, who once asked Putin to help him overcome business barriers. His conversion to orthodoxy, his wealth and optimism were frequent stories in the Russian media in the past couple of years.

In the beginning of this year, several Russian TV stations well known for propagandistic programs, synchronously aired several reports on “unbearable economic situation in the West”, with a special emphasis on America, and people that are leaving everywhere, even in Russia, burdened by sanctions.

Along with Russians, that are coming back after they faced a reality of hard life in America, Americans are coming too. Blogs and posts of the disappointed Russians, which speak about the unjust rules of the American labor market and expensive health insurance, are intensively being published in the past several months.

Alyona Glazkova, a NewsNN.Ru reporter, published a blog about “hundreds of thousands” of Americans that are leaving USA. After a small research, we found that this temporary migrant in USA has been writing articles about American hardships for several years already.

In the NTV report, that has been an object of the extensive social media mocking among the Russian expat communities in the West, they portrayed an American chemistry teacher, Michael Lutz, who said that he earned more and spent less in Moscow than in the US. He is a kindergarten English language teacher in Moscow and he lives in the city center. We found the data on the biggest Russian online job search agency trud.com and found out that the average net monthly salary in Russia is 26.000 rubles (345 euros) and in Moscow a bit higher 35.000 rubles (465 euros). If we take West Virginia as one of the lowest economically performing states in the USA, an average preschool teacher salary after taxes is about 3.300 dollars per month (2889 euros). If we take user generated content website numbeo.com as a reference, and compare Moscow to Charleston, West Virginia – in order to attain the same level of standard of living you have for 2889 euros in Charleston, you should be earning 2450 euros in Moscow.

The report further speaks about many Americans who are selling their homes to move to Saratov, Kyrov, Kremenchug, not showing the concrete stories. In the narrative they speak about the happy faces of Americans going out of elektrichkas (Russian suburban light rail system) on their way from work to home.

Even though most of the Russians abroad laugh at this report, and post stories about the children of Lavrov and Putin press secretary Peskov, who live their luxurious lives in the West, the statistics, which show many talented and educated Russians are leaving the country, look grim. Let us just take the official Federal agency for statistics data and we will see that in 2010 only 33.578 people left Russia, while in 2016. this number grew to 313.260. The statistics tells us another interesting fact too, that, ironically., the majority of the Russians pursue a better life in the USA.

The Government of Kosovo passed the decision on forming the Army of Kosovo, after the Parliament of Kosovo unanimously voted the Law on Kosovo Security Force.

106 MPs out of 120 seated Parliament of Kosovo, voted for passing on the Law, with total 45 amendments. The session was boycotted by the minority Serb MPs.

Belgrade sees the creation of the Kosovo Army as breaching the International documents, and referring to the Resolution 1244 UN, it emphasizes that the international peacekeeping forces at Kosovo (KFOR) must prevent and disarm all Albanian troops. President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, stated that he was “very concerned following the current situation in Kosovo”, saying that “the only big problem is in what partly the Albanians and partly the rest of the world” impose in Kosovo.”

Official Belgrade and its close ally Russia are very furious about that decision.

As a reaction to the adoption of the decision on creating the Army of Kosovo, the Serbian-US community launched an online petition on December 19th, addressing the President of the USA Donald Trump and Congress, asking for protection of the Serbian people in Kosovo and Metohija.

The petition entitled “Stop the Persecution of Serbian Christians in Kosovo and Metohija” calls for Trump and Congress members to stop supporting Albanian administration led by Hashim Thaci and creation of the Army, under their control in Serbian province Kosovo and Metohija. The petition was signed by more than 5.000 people.

Several national portals, such as in4s.net and slobodacg.me posted articles on the mentioned petition, with the following headline: A Million American Serbs Require from Trump: Do not Support Thaci – the criminal.

in4s.me
slobodacg.me
Source: change.org

It could be concluded, from the headlines of these portals, that million Serbs have already signed the petition. However, that is not the case. According to the current situation, more than 5.000 have signed the petition.


The authors of the text have drawn from the context a small part of the accompanying text of the petition, stating that in the US, there are over a million American Serbs, and used it to make not only a click bate headline, but also disinform the audience, since nowhere in the text “A million Serbs” is not mentioned in the context of what is written in the headline of the article.

Unlike in4s.net and slobodacg.me, other portals that wrote about petition (politika.co.rs, novosti.rs, time.rs, b92.net, nezavisne.net) tended to present the real situation, having headlines like “The Petition of the US Serbs addressing Trump”.


How the SPP Bots “pushed” the Petition of the US Serbs

Recently, news from a session of the Executive Board of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), where a party official in charge of the Internet team submitted an annual report, leaked in public. The Internet team consists of, of course, bots – party soldiers in charge of posting comments on portals and social networks. According to the report, the SPP has 3.456 bots, that per one year have posted about 10 million comments on 201.717 published news.

Why does this concern us? By analyzing the petition itself and the ways in which it is being expanded and promoted on social networks, we found out that SPP bots are in charge of promoting and disseminating this content on Twitter, while the report from the session confirms that the bots of this party are indeed operational.

The Twitter bot is a simple account managed both by the software and the human hand. Accordingly, such accounts can behave as robots and as human users at different times.

All 17 accounts that we investigated have some of the main features of Internet bots, and using the DFR Lab methodology, we have revealed what these accounts make bots.

In each case, it is important to note that we cannot rely on, or call for only one behavior identification factor, that is bot-like. A combination of factors is important. The three most important are: activity, anonymity and amplification.

Over the last few years, bots have become an inevitable part of online life. Last year only, researchers estimated that only Twitter was home for about 30 million of bots, but there are also other platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram.[2]

Some appear to be designed to deliberately encourage or support certain political candidates and ideas, while others have commercial purposes.

Although this campaign has not significantly contributed to the success of the petition in terms of additional signatures, what is crucial is that people raise awareness of  the very existence of the bots, used to influence them and create specific (political) attitudes. It is less likely that users who themselves can identify the bots will be the victim of their manipulation in the future.


[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kosovo-army/kosovo-approves-new-army-despite-serb-opposition-nato-criticism-idUSKBN1OD16S

[2] https://mashable.com/2018/02/20/how-to-spot-a-bot/

Within “Russian Federation Foreign Policy Concept” the world is defined as polycentric, in which no country is presented as a “pole” but instead, reacts in accordance with the emerging situation. Such concept implies the rise in use of the so called “soft power”. Objectively speaking, Russia under Putin has very well estimated benefits of using the “soft power”, by applying tools that the USA used years ago. Concretely, through influence on the Balkan countries, Putin is trying to present Russia as a traditional protector and patron of the Balkan countries, but also to ruffle up the concepts of the West in this area, primarily, to dispute the Euro-Atlantic integration processes of certain countries. Montenegro is a concrete example of such devised policy, where Russia has combined tools of “soft power” with specially designed media activity on the basis of spreading disinformation and fake news with actual interference in internal affairs of Montenegro. This relation was best displayed in significant periods of contemporary Montenegrin history, such as referendum on Montenegrin independence in 2006 and membership to NATO in 2017. Additionally, an example of interference in internal affairs of Montenegro was also a terrorist attempt in the time of the parliamentarian elections in 2016, with, as it was suspected, Russian influence, first through financing, and then with, allegedly, involvement of Russian citizens in the entire case.

According to its conservative policy, Russia, prior to referendum on Montenegrin independence, carried out extensive diplomatic action, and from today’s perspective, it could be said, untrue action based on disinforming and encouraging fake news spreading, with a view to preserve the union of Serbia and Montenegro, stating that survival of such country and relation between Serbia and Montenegro in it was a guarantor of stability in this region. In the period prior to the referendum, Russia used several ways to influence Montenegro, in order to make it give up on intentions to renew its independence:

  • • Uniqueness of the Serbian-Montenegrin ethnic group and “Montenegrinship” as a concept invented by communists;
  • • The greatest threat to Montenegro, if it came out from the state union, would be its Albanian minority and its connection to the home country;
  • • Using “soft power” to influence, through church representatives, who, repeatedly, spoke about necessity of remaining in state union and that it was in the interest, both of Serbia and Montenegro, but Russia as well.

Despite this, after Montenegro renewed independence in 2006, Russia was the fourth country which (behind Germany, the USA and France) acknowledged new reality on the peninsula. Furthermore, in the very solution of the issue it saw opportunity for its economic influence. At this period Russian influence could be best expressed by numbers. Namely, Russian capital in Montenegro at that time exceeded 2 billion US dollars, while 30 thousand Russians bought real estate (apartments, land, houses).

The extensive campaign, guided by Russia, was carried out in the period prior to Montenegrin membership to NATO. Although, unfortunately, there wasn’t a comprehensive, fact-based analysis of such influence through media, church, political parties etc., the intention of Russia to prevent Montenegro from its path towards NATO was evident.  Russia Today and Sputnik were mostly used for such venture when it comes to media. Their writings and addressing of the leaders of pro-Serbian political parties (Demokratski front, Demokratska narodna partija, Srpska koalicija, and since recently Prava Crna Gora) were profusely quoted on social networks, and in certain media in Montenegro. What is important to emphasize here is that such information was spread without previous fact-checking. The well-proven instrument of influence, of course, is the church. Although in the Constitution of the Russian Federation the church has no special place, Putin, aware of its importance, both for Russian identity and as an important link of the “soft power”, as part of the impact on countries of particular importance, has done everything to strengthen the position of Orthodox Church. In that manner, Russian voice has been heard in Montenegro through Serbian Orthodox Church and its leader in Montenegro, Amfilohije Radović, where the need to maintain ties with Russia based on traditional fraternal relations was stressed out, while at the same time rigid, retrograde and instigating rhetoric has been used to counter the Euro-Atlantic integration of Montenegro.

In the end, it is worth pointing out a few facts that favor such Russian influence. Namely, as we have already pointed out, lack of comprehensive analysis of the Russian influence in Montenegro, in context of the use “soft power” tools, is aggravating factor of the fight against disinformation and fake news. The need for coordinated and concrete activities, with a view to counter this kind of calamity is clearly evident, thus, the activities of the Atlantic Council are of a significant importance. On the other side, the Balkans, and especially its western part presents fertile soil for such activities of the countries that use specific tools for achieving their goals in international relations. The Western Balkan countries are in the process of democracy consolidation, establishment of the democratic institutions, with still weak civil society, and a low level of media and computer literacy, burdened with the past (when it comes to Russia and centuries-long relations), and, therefore, they represent fertile soil for receiving such an impact. An example of the relations between Montenegro and Russia shows the evident need for undertaking targeted activities, that will lead to reporting in a well-argumented manner, the spread of media and information literacy, especially among young people.

In the foreseeable future, the situation of tense relations between Montenegro and Russia is expected to continue. The system of EU sanctions against Russia, that Montenegro, as a candidate for full-fledged membership inclined to, contributed to this situation. Such situation will benefit from the latest developments in the Orthodox Church and from autocephaly of the Ukrainian church, obtained from the Constantinople Patriarch, which additionally instigate aspiration to renew independence of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, as well as the anticipation of a judicial epilogue in the case of a “coup” and the deteriorating relations between Montenegro and Serbia, which is a key partner of Russia in the Balkans.

History has taught us that no propaganda and disinformation venture has endured the test of time, although the current world situation can make us doubt the value and strength of the truth. The thing in which the disinformation tactic is unsurpassed is most certainly making harm through creating chaos, instability and calling for actions with the aim to destabilize society, in which fake information are being promoted. Although effective only in short perspective disinformation campaign always does an irreparable damage both to the society and communities.

Maybe the worst instance of destructive propaganda action proves that Russian intelligence services have developed insidious techniques of disinformation expansion ever since the printing and issuing of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, the most harmful plagiarism and propaganda pamphlet in history. “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is the pamphlet created in the offices of “Ohrana”, and is directly responsible for persecution of the Jews in the Russian Empire. This book directly influenced the creation of fertile soil for the worst crime in human history – the holocaust. The pamphlet was used by anti-Semites as a proof of righteousness of their fight.  Henry Ford financed the print and distribution of the pamphlet in circulation of 500.000 copies. It took a lot of time until people in Europe and the USA, through the work of the London Times journalists, didn’t realize it was about the worst kind of plagiarism and forgery in the entire history. Many people in the west turned out to be “useful idiots” in service of the current dead regime of the Russian Empire.

What happened during the preparations for the US elections proved that tradition very much alive. An Agency for the Internet researches, allegedly private company which is believed to be owned by Evgenie Prigozin, the same man who stands behind private military organization Vagner, which recruited  people from Serbia and Montenegro for war in Syria and on African fronts, in previous years conducted a great operation of public opinion manipulation in western countries. People who were native English speakers, who had fake accounts on social networks and who organized gatherings of members of opposing ideas at the same venue and in the same time, were recruited. Simulating clashes, with media support of informative agencies owned by the Russian government, such as Russia Today, Russia Beyond, Sputnik etc., emphasized all topics that could possibly cause separations in the society and in the west.

Messages were generated, as well as the speech that was used. Most messages turned out to be mocking and overemphasizing of ideological differences between Left and Right. Emphasizing marginal and harmful phenomena on the Right or Left, such as so called SJW  (Social Justice Warrior), people who, with their maximalist and bizarre demands, stultify feminism or fight for the rights of ethnic, religious or sexual minorities. On the other hand, pointing out the phenomenon such as armed militia in America, radicalization of movements such as NRA.  Mocking gender policy, similar as  Sasa Baron Koen does in a new project “Who is America”, only with no good intent, but with tendency to cause conflicts at greater level, as well as to destabilize political scene in Europe and America. One of the most dangerous narratives is the story about immigrants put in context of world conspiracy whose creator is George Sorosh. Packages with explosives were sent to the addresses of Sorosh, CNN, as well as to the families Obama and Clinton, which we have witnessed recently. I hope everyone understands what caused such actions of people.

The main strategic direction was to decrease odds for dialogue and compromise through emphasizing differences, principles on which long term stability of liberal democracies was preserved.

It seems that the Protocol, which grandfathers of Russian machinery for spreading lies from “Ohrana” attributed to Judeo-Masonic conspiracy, has become nowadays inspiration for ventures of the structures that are in service of the Kremlin interests.

Highly sophisticated tactics in the Balkans were not necessary like in the west, since our differences and separations are at the nineteen century level. Ethnic animosity, different national features present target that propaganda machinery is aiming at. Sputnik, with its studio in Serbia engaged young director and journalist Malagurski, who grew up in Canada and who, through couple propaganda actions got nominated for an excellent collaborator. Also, we have people from politics, such as Croat MP Ivan Prenar, Montenegrin MP Nebojsa Medojevic and groups such as “Zavetnici”  from  Serbia, that without any critical filter serve as distributors of pre-prepared attitudes. Although one may think it is about some spontaneous actions, the proof of action coordination is the presence of people from the region at the international conferences organized in Russia or Iran for instance, on which strategies of fight for monopoly over “the truth” have been designed.

Social networks and meme pages also present a mean for spreading disinformation. Pages like Stari Liberal in Montenegro emphasize topics which divide society, amplify disinformation efforts and stir up the conspiracy theory. Social networks and inadequate behavior on them, such as the behavior of Nebojsa Medojevic may seem comic, but if we bear in mind that one part of the population has blind trust in what chosen representatives say, then we have to put effort to learn what we can do in order to diminish damage created by such actions.

Constant activities on the promotion of media working on precise and impartial reporting, independent rating of the media work in this field, a good and authentic fact-checking project which has to be united in common language and cultural area of the Balkans. Absence of such activities and pointing out every destructive act lead us to a situation where we cannot be positive that bad information won’t take advantage of the perfect moment to light a fire on very flammable area of the Balkans.

This Policy paper and following recommendations are the result of the recently ended workshop, under the name “Information Warfare and the New World Order: Case Study Western Balkans“, which was organized by the Atlantic Council of Montenegro.

Situation analysis

The advances in both hardware and software related to information technology over the past 25 years have been truly significant. The technological advancement has facilitated the access to information and the huge growth in global information sharing. Therefore, technology-facilitated abuse is becoming more widespread and normalized. The misuse of the internet and social media has contributed to creation of new conflicts and crisis across whole world. This concept is commonly known as the information warfare involving the use and management of information and communication technology in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent.

This phenomenon Russia has greatly exploited in its internal and external efforts to spread its propaganda and disinformation in order to destabilize the world order, and has been using it to demoralize and destabilize the Western Balkans, as its interest sphere. Since Russia has been aware that it remains politically, economically, and militarily weaker than the combined strength of the West, it has decided to compensate for these weaknesses by elaborating its modern geopolitical strategy.

For many years, the western alliances have tried but failed to get Moscow to accept a more win-win viewpoint that sees democracy and prosperity in this common neighborhood as good for both Russia and Europe. Moscow, on the other hand, assumes that any actions by the EU specifically and the West in general are rooted in the same great-power competition that frames Moscow’s worldview. Russia strongly believes that Europe is trying to spread its norms and values in the Eastern Europe and Western Balkans region with the aim of expanding its sphere of influence at the expense of Moscow’s, with an eye toward enlarging the NATO as well as, potentially, the EU. Russian efforts are the most concentrated on undermining the democratic progress on the territory of the Western Balkan. Consequently, the Western Balkans are notably exposed to Russian pressure reflected in its propaganda and campaigns aimed at dividing us from one another, and undermining our own trust in our own institutions.

Hence, this workshop managed to gather speakers from various countries in order that they discuss the Russian modern warfare strategy and form recommendations for combating the Russian propaganda.

Democratic states and institutions as targets of cyber-attacks

Generally speaking, democracies around the world were attacked, not by traditional weapons, but by deliberately releasing false information, which is a serious threat to the democracy.

Thus, Russia is trying to destabilize the Western Balkans and undermine democratic efforts and progress of countries in the region by using misinformation. The disinformation is one of the instruments for implementing strategic foreign policy interests, strengthening of Russia’s international position and protection of Russian economic interests. However, democratic states must not conduct disinformation campaigns. The fight against Russian cyber-attacks should not be ’’fight fire with fire’’. We need to look for other ways and instruments to go on the offensive and prevent future attacks. Fighting Russian misinformation requires simultaneously managing attack and defense.

The development of information and telecommunication technologies significantly shifted the nature of contemporary conflicts. The information became a key tool for modern warfare.

Consequently, the freedom of the media, speech and information has become a means of combating fake news. If media in a democracy areconsidered biased or aligned with special interests then, the foundation of the democratic system becomes meaningless.

Last year Russia was meddling in the presidential election in the US and thus attacked the integrity of the US democratic system. The same thing happened in Montenegro. Moscow’s goal is nothing but discrediting democratic governance and the existing international system.

Being exposed to conspiracies against the government and to use of negative information campaigns undermining the key values of the society, Montenegro has showed determination in opposing these activities. Moreover, Montenegro’s membership in NATO led to three positive results: it confirms the policy of NATO’s open doors, fosters security and stability of the region, and emphasizes the benefits of reforms, in particular the rule of law and good governance.

Montenegro has to continue implementing reforms in order to strengthen the rule of law and good governance. In that sense, it is not alone in the fight against Russia’s malicious actions in sharing fake information, it can count on the support of its Western Allies.

Western Balkans and Russia’s new chaos theory of political warfare

Russia has a modern strategy, a vision of overall warfare that puts politics and war in the same spectrum of activities – from both philosophical and logistic point of view.

Therefore, Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. Russia attacked America’s 2016 election, attempted to interfere in France’s 2017 election, and is expected to do the same to other future European and US elections. But perhaps the best evidence of Russia’s malicious attacks on a democratic system is what happened in October 2016 in Montenegro, when Russian intelligence operatives plotted to supposedly overthrow the democratically elected government of Montenegro and murder its prime minister.

Montenegro’s NATO membership would be a signal that becoming part of the Alliance was a real possibility for other nations of the Western Balkans. That’s why, in Russia’s eyes, Montenegro’s October 16 elections was a last chance to stop it from joining NATO and to reassert Russian influence in Southeast Europe.

Russia’s meddling is constant and systematic. It achieves political and strategic goals by the non-military means which exceeded the power of weapons in their effectiveness.

The models that Russia is relying on, during the hybrid war are: information warfare, misinformation, fake news, instrumentalization of the local population, weaponization of the ethnicity. Particularly, the concept of story-telling is of a special importance. Story-telling is the ability to share fictions and manipulate people to believe in stories. Basically, Putin does not create tensions on the territory of Balkan, but he exploits them. Putin holds a magnifying glass over our weaknesses and manages to take advantage of them by using all the negative models, but the good news is that we control these weaknesses by implementing new social reforms contributing to the reforms of our overall system.

Russia’s malicious actions represent a threat in the region causing instability and unrests. Namely, they are carried out through undermining parliamentary elections, hindering the attempts of border demarcation, meddling in state affairs by means of unreformed, highly corrupt security services, instrumentalizing ethnicity… The problems allowing Russian disruptive influence are: Glorification of war criminals as heroes, corruption, unresolved war crimes and organized criminal. The defense against its negative impact implies the dialogue and accession of Western Balkans to EU and NATO.

Also the economic coercion is another form of Russian aggression reflected in Russia’s ability to use gas as a political bargaining chip. The role of Russia in weaponization of ethnicity has also been significant and the situation in Bosnia is stated as a very good example of it. Thus, Russia recognized the media as a perfect tool for increasing its soft power in Balkan. An instrument which generates high rewards with minimum investments.

Hence, it can be concluded that the media under Russian ownership are likely to be more subjective and ideologically colored. Moreover, information laundering is one of the several Russian tactics for dissemination of fake news. Sputnik is the tip of the iceberg, below it there are sites which pick up these narratives and copy them. So, they find way to the mainstream media.

The borderless web, challenges and opportunities for democracy

There is no doubt that the fourth revolution has occurred – that is digital revolution.

Although, it does not possess better technological and financial resources than the United States (USA) and Europe, Russia still succeeds in generating significant challenges during the extremely important processes. It is only that Russian federation understood before us that IT is keeping the world order.

The Ministry of Defense of Montenegro was several times a target of cyber-attacks before the accession of Montenegro to NATO. Free access to information, speed, anonymity, lack of geographical boundaries are just some of the elements that make these activities much more effective and visible, but they take place at different levels. These levels include not only false news, but also far more significant forms that endanger the security of cyber space and the activities that take place on that basis.

Hence, certain types of solutions are suggested: the short-term and the long-term solutions. The short-term solutions would be technological solutions improving the overall cyber security, where state authorities as well as the academic community, civil society and media play special role.

On the other hand, the only sustainable and efficient solution is education, and not only the information technology education, but multidisciplinary one improving the ability of logical and critical thinking which is key prerequisite for increasing the level of resistance of individuals and society to all forms of IT “warfare”.

Compared to the Western mentality, Russian is based on Marxism (ownership of means of production and control over the labor power of others). Thus, Russia uses media as means of exercising control and exerting pressure over democratic states.

Ukraine is a good example of it, the half of its population speaks Russian and Russian TV networks are in top ten in this country. Thus, its population is constantly exposed to disinformation and fake news coming from Russia. For these reasons, a group of Ukrainian students and professors created a fact-checking project and they started to monitor information and to check whether they are true or not. Hence, they collected thousands of stories, evidences which prove the presence of very well-orchestrated Russian propaganda.

In addition, BBC is considered to be an example of proper public service broadcaster striving for journalism that is accurate, impartial, independent and fair. It has a huge budget but at the same time they have expertise in providing short and accurate reports in no time. The time is very important, the news should be received as soon as possible. Consequently, as they must secure their independence from any influence, strong, financially stable media institutions are needed. Therefore, it is extremely important that media supports and maintains the cherishing of positive values based on their professionalism, since media is considered to be one of the main barriers against propaganda, whose duty is to inform public as accurately as possible. The era of post-truth where we live should be precisely defined.

Review of recommendations

Democratic states and institutions as targets of cyber-attacks

  • Western Balkans as well as all the countries threatened by cyber-attacks need to work on strengthening their democratic institutions and to show the unity, prosperity and stability of their countries.
  • The fight against Russian cyber-attacks should not be ’’fight fire with fire’’. Countries should work on detecting disinformation and on removing thereof.
  • Awareness about the information technologies must be raised as the possible consequences can be very dangerous in the long run.
  • New countermeasures for the combat against our enemies are to be devised. The strategic communications require not only our interaction but involvement of the general public.
  • A cooperation among allies, partners and international organizations is crucial as it would ensure a consistent approach to these challenges.
  • The USA should make an effort in order to strengthen the democratic system and protect human rights.
  • Montenegro must continue to be the leader in the implementation of reforms and to show the world to control its own destiny- the destiny of prosperity and security that can not be disrupted by a bad influence from the outside world.

Western Balkans and Russia’s new chaos theory of political warfare

  • Awareness about story-telling should be raised. The ability of telling stories helps storytellers manipulate information to serve their own interests. Thus, we have to be better at it, to master it.
  • Western Balkans have to be aware of ’’magnifying glass theory’’. Putin holds his magnifying glass over our weaknesses and /monitors our every move, that is why we have to reinforce our democracy and show our unity. We need to build a state of well-being, in order to strengthen our democracy and demonstrate integrity, social reforms contributing to reforms of overall system are mandatory.
  • We need to recognize losers of the globalization process as they pose a serious threat and with their malicious actions can disrupt democratic processes. The best example could be the local political elite manipulating emotions very skillfully, especially before the elections.
  • Instead of negative competition, a positive competition should be encouraged as it promotes an “everyone wins” attitude where regional countries work collectively toward a common goal- strengthening democracy and the rule of law.

Digital revolution as the fourth revolution

  • Looking at the global scene, the liberal democracy is being put on a test as the development of IT technology has enabled people to express freely their personal opinion. At the same time, it is an opportunity for those not having good intentions to foster distrust in institutions by sowing division and chaos in politics and society. There is a duty of the governments to protect their citizens, but also a duty of all of us not to take our rights for granted.
  • Ordinary citizens, young children, even retired people use internet and have several devices in their pockets, but are not aware of the fact that they are monitored in such way. An open and decentralized internet should be promoted.
  • We need to apply Ukrainian know-how to fight against Russian propaganda by monitoring social networks. In that way, we would be able to predict future steps that Russia is planning to take.
  • We need to support our own media institutions representing our defense. Due to the lack of the financial support media organization is susceptible of discredit. News outlets have dropped most fact-checking and critical analysis steps in order to churn out news more cheaply and quicker and as a result daft and untrue stories are appearing in mainstream news. So we should provide media with financial support in order to protect ourselves from information warfare.
  • Whatever measures we undertake, they should be long-term measures for purpose of preventing cyber-attacks to endanger our fundamental values.
  • The key factor in the combat against spreading of fake news and propaganda is education, and not only information technology education but comprehensive one, encouraging people to foster logical and critical thinking crucial for evaluating the claims, ideas, and arguments they encounter on daily basis.
  • We should combat cyber-attack but not by undertaking undemocratic measures. Exactly through this discussions we should raise the awareness about financed media outlets and apparently coordinated social-media accounts in order to reduce the possibility of manipulation.

The 20th century was a very specific one.  It was a century of extreme violence, as witnessed by the years 1914 and 1939 with the outbreak of the First and Second World War. Simultaneously, however, there were also turning points of remarkable progress of technology and communication. The First and Second World War produced deadly weapons and witnessed wide array of clashes of clashes which resulted in millions of victims. But things have changed. The beginning of the 21st century marked the shift in definition of the power from conventional, military and hard power to its much more non-violent, selective and non-conventional form, in a way that mass media, social media, propaganda and information have become weapons of choice #1.

The relative novelty of modern warfare, labeled as “hybrid warfare”, lays in the ability of an actor to synchronize multiple instruments of power (political, military, economic, informational) simultaneously and intentionally exploit creativity, ambiguity, non-linearity and the cognitive elements of warfare, targeting vulnerabilities across societies in ways that we do not  think about.

“Hybrid warfare” is a concept of a military operational approach that was first employed in 2007 by a former US Marine officer, Frank Hoffman, What makes a war ‘hybrid’, in Hoffman’s view, is the coordinated use of different modes of warfare, both military and non-military to achieve ‘synergistic effects in the physical and psychological dimensions of conflict’ within the main battle space. [1]

It can be conducted by both state and non-state actors. These campaigns mainly rely on contemporary technology that characterizes 21stcentury and may not be seen until they are already well underway, as it is customizedto remain below detection radius.

Nowadays, this term is mainly linked to Moscow due to the broad use of different non-military instruments and weapons to further and accomplish national interests. Some examples of such attempts are dividing NATO, knocking down pro-Western governments (Russian military intelligence, for example, is believed to have created a 2016 plot to overthrow the pro-NATO government of Montenegro), annexing territories without the use of conventional forces (Russia’s successful annexation of Crimea,the move that launched the debate over Russian “hybrid warfare”,without the need to fire a single shot using (dis)information as the main weapon, took the world by surprise in 2014). Moreover Moscow tends to increase its political influence, especially on the Balkans (lack of progress to EU membership, persistent ethnic tensions, and Russian cultural and historical links are just some of the main reasons). Kremlin has established a base in Serbia that could be used for covert operations across the Balkans underthe guise of a “Humanitarian Center” in Nis. [2] Central and Eastern Europe as well as the Baltic states represent target areas for the foreign malign influence (due to the ties to Soviet Union).

Russia’s Hybrid Warfare Toolkit

(Dis)information campaigns – Russia has become notably more effective in its use of strategic communications to shape political narratives in many countries. Media outlets such as Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik News are among the most well-known instruments for this strategy, but Moscow also uses targeted television programming, employs large number of Internet trolls, bots and fake news factories. The primary goal is to cast the doubt upon the objective truth. These media outlets and their proxies aim to shape the political discussion and opinion of targeted groups in the desired ways. [3]

Cyber – The Kremlin now has access to a growing cadre of cyber warriors, which allows it to collect valuable information that is used to influence elections and other political outcomes outside Russia’s border. This was the strategy that seems to have been employed by Russia during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

Proxies – Russia also uses a range of proxies to further its interests. Proxies are often groups that have broad sympathy toward Russia’s objectives. One of the Kremlin’s typical proxies is the Night Wolves, a biker club and ultranationalist, anti-American gang, whose leader is a personal friend of President Putin. Russia also seeks to exploit European protest movements. For example, it backed anti-European Union (EU) groups in a 2016 referendum on trade with Ukraine in the Netherlands. [4] It is also suspected of supporting the anti-shale gas and other protest movements in Bulgaria that have complicated Bulgaria’s efforts to reduce its dependence on Russian energy sources.

Economic influence – Russia uses both direct and indirect economic influence to have more impact on European politics. Moscow used energy as foreign policy tool when it cut the natural gas supplies to Ukraine in the winter in 2006 and 2009 in an overt effort to coerce Ukraine into agreement on the price of its gas. Taking advantage of the vast network of natural gas pipelines built in Soviet times, the Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom and its subsidiaries wield influence over the politics and economics of many European countries. Russia has also offered large-scale investment to build energy pipelines and other infrastructure in countries that are dependent on Russian energy supplies as a means of growing its influence.

Secret measures – Russia also has the ability to use traditional espionage as part of its hybrid methods as part of its broader military modernization program, Russia has invested in strengthening its special operations forces. These forces have a wide range of roles, but one of their most dramatic has been in infiltrating other countries and directing hybrid warfare efforts there. Russian military intelligence, for example, is believed to have instigated a 2016 plot to overthrow the pro-NATO government of Montenegro. Russian Special Forces were crucial in seizing Crimea and supporting separatists in the Donbass, and they are likely operating in several NATO-allied countries.

Political influence – Certainly, Russian leaders also use traditional diplomacy to support their preferred political parties and candidates, offering high-level visits in Moscow, while deriding the positions of political leaders more critical of Moscow.

Hybrid methods of warfare, such as propaganda, deception, sabotage and other non-military tactics have long been used, since the Cold War and even before. What is new about attacks seen in recent years is their speed, scale and intensity, facilitated by rapid technological change and global interconnectivity and as such they require swift response. [5]

The rising hybrid threat to the democracies around the world has been recognized on the highest level and that’s why in July 2017, NATO formed a special unit within the existing Joint Intelligence and Security Division, with purpose to analyze hybrid actions, drawing from military and civilian, classified and open sources.

Brussels Summit Declaration 2018

Moreover, Brussels Summit Declaration issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels 11-12 July 2018 focused heavily on the mentioned issue.


(source: nato.int)

The Declaration states that the primary responsibility to respond to hybrid threats or attacks rests with the targeted nation, but NATO is prepared to assist any Ally against hybrid threats as part of collective defense. The Alliance has developed a strategy on its role in countering hybrid warfare to help address these threats. In article 20 the declaration reaffirms NATO’s mandate for collective defense against the full spectrum of cyber threats, followed by groundbreaking article 21 claiming that in cases of hybrid warfare, the Council could decide to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, as in the case of armed attack.

The Document announced the establishment of Counter Hybrid Support Teams, which will provide tailored, targeted assistance to Allies, upon their request, in preparing for and responding to hybrid activities.  These teams will strengthen resilience of NATO allies when facing hybrid challenges.

The last few articles of the Declaration emphasize the importance of Ukraine’s efforts to strengthen its resilience against hybrid threats, including intensifying activities within the NATO-Ukraine Platform on Countering Hybrid Warfare.  Ukraine’s significant contributions to Allied operations, the NATO Response Force, and NATO exercises increase security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area and beyond. [6]

The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (Hybrid CoE)

Hybrid threats represent a global issue – the response should be the same. The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (Hybrid CoE), an intergovernmental think tank established in 2017 and based in NATO partner country Finland. It serves as a hub of expertise supporting the participating countries’ individual and collective efforts to enhance their civil-military capabilities, resilience, and preparedness to counter hybrid threats with a special focus on European security. It operates as a center that offers collective experience and expertise for the benefit of all participating countries, as well as the EU and NATO. The Centre follows a comprehensive, multinational, multidisciplinary and academic-based approach. [7]


(source: hybridcoe.fi)

In terms of research and analysis, the Strategic Communications CoE is the leader, having released more than a dozen analysis papers, reports and practical studies of influence operation examples. In addition, Alliance countries such as Denmark have decided to train their soldiers how to combat disinformation before they are posted to NATO service. [8]

Conclusion

Hybrid measures of warfare, such as propaganda, deception, sabotage and other non-military tactics have long been used by many states since the Cold War and even before in order to gain influence and shape the political landscape in Europe and beyond. But the hybrid war tactics that Russia uses today, however, are not identical to those used during the 20thcentury. The reach is far greater and the consequences far more severe due to the globalization and interconnectedness of the societies and countries around the world, through the internet, media and social media being main channels and tools of influence.

Hybrid warfare expands the battlefield across the political, economic and social dimension that extends far beyond the mere military realm.  These campaigns are synchronized and systematic and mainly rely on the contemporary technology that characterizes 21st century and may not be seen until are already well underway, as it is customized to remain below detection radius.

Therefore, national governments should conduct a self-assessment of critical functions and vulnerabilities sectors, and maintain it regularly. National efforts should enhance traditional threat assessment activity to include non-conventional political, economic, civil, international (PECI) tools and capabilities. [9]

Apart from the theoretical solutions, practical efforts have been made against this clear challenge to the EU, NATO and democratic system in Europe, like 1) the Brussels Summit Declaration, 2) forming a special unit within the existing Joint Intelligence and Security Division, with purpose to analyze hybrid actions, drawing from military and civilian, classified and open sources, 3) starting the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats with the goal to work with members, NATO and the EU to understand different dimensions of hostile state influence and enhance their ability to respond and help them to recognize their vulnerabilities, 4) strengthening the NATO-Ukraine Platform on Countering Hybrid Warfare and 5) many more initiatives around the world, especially in Central Europe and Baltic States.

National governments should coordinate and work closely with NATO, the EU, as well as with other international organizations, NGOs and different initiatives around the world to support and develop more practical solutions in ever-changing security environment.

[1] Frank Hoffman, Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars, Arlington, VA: Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, 2007, p. 8

[2] Dusan Stojanovic, “Inside Russian ‘Spy Base’ in the Balkans”. link: URL Link

[3] Christopher S. Chivvis, Understanding Russian “Hybrid Warfare” and What Can be Done About It, RAND, 2017, link: URL Link

[4] Anne Applebaum, The Dutch Just Showed the World How Russia Influences Western European Elections, Washington Post, April 8, 2016

[5] https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_156338.htm

[6] Brussels Summit Declaration, July 11, 2018, url: URL Link

[7] https://www.hybridcoe.fi

[8] The Warsaw Institute Review, qr. 3. 2018, no 6, url: URL Link

[9] MCDC Countering Hybrid Warfare Project: Understanding Hybrid Warfare, url: URL Link