The Minority Staff Report for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Russian influence in Russia and Europe was released on Wednesday. The report focuses on its influence in Serbia and Montenegro – it highlights the 2016 coup attempt plotted against Prime Minister in Montenegro and the need for an increased U.S. presence in Serbia.
“The purpose of the coup plot was to create such discord in Montenegro that its NATO bid, or any prospects for integration with Europe, would be disrupted. Russia sought to destabilize Montenegro in the same way that it had Georgia and Ukraine, seeking to render it incapable of integration with Western democracies,” said the report.
It added, “This coup attempt, however, was not a one-off event, but the culmination of a sustained propaganda and interference campaign to persuade the Montenegrin people to oppose NATO membership.”
Two lessons learned from the coup attempt were that (1) NATO membership matters and (2) Russia is unafraid to use violence outside of the former Soviet Union.
The report concludes that Serbia’s strategic goal is, in fact, the European Union (EU), but questions whether its loyalty will be to the EU or Russia on decisions counter to Russia’s best interest. Serbia continues to maintain relations with the Russian military and NATO, but NATO aspirations are absent.
Despite the US-Serbia security operations far outweigh Russia-Serbia operations.
“Serbia held around 125 military-to-military exchanges with the United States in 2016, compared to only four with Russia.”
Russian influence in Serbia is concentrated through soft and public diplomacy, and it has worked thus far.
“Russian malign influence in the Republic of Serbia manifests itself through cultural ties, propaganda, energy, and an expanding defense relationship. Moscow also highlights deep roots between the countries through the Orthodox Church and a shared Slavic culture. This narrative has been carefully cultivated over the years such that Russian government disinformation campaigns find very fertile ground among the population of Serbia”
What were the lessons learned in Serbia? First, the United States must reverse the downward trajectory of aid to Serbia.
“The United States must reverse years of thinking about shrinking its footprint, and instead work towards an expansive and entrepreneurial approach that makes long-term investments in building resiliency and strengthening democratic institutions, including their ability to counter disinformation.”
Second, the US should be sending senior level officials and Congressmen to Serbia. It noted the stark difference between the number of visits between Vucic and Putin and US presidents.
“President Vucic has met with President Putin at least twelve times since 2012. The last U.S. President to visit Belgrade was Jimmy Carter in 1980.”
The United States must reassert itself in Montenegro, Serbia, and the rest of the Balkans to truly show that we are by their side and support their Euro-Atlantic ambitions to counter Russian activities in the region.
The full report can be read here.