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Leaked Intelligence Documents Reveal Russian, Serbian Disinformation Strategy in Macedonia

News Brief

Russian spies and diplomats ran an organized campaign to provoke political and ethnic discord in Macedonia in an effort to prevent the Balkan country and its neighbors from joining NATO, reported the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). Leaked Macedonian counterintelligence documents provided the OCCRP with “one of the clearest views yet of Russia’s ongoing efforts to increase influence in the former Yugoslavia and pry the region away from the West.”

Intelligence agents posted at Moscow’s embassy in Macedonia coordinated with Russian agents in Serbia and Belgrade as well as with local representatives at a Kremlin state news agency and a Russian government aid agency in Skopje, according to the report. The ultimate goal of the disinformation effort is to isolate the country from Western influence and place Macedonia “in a state of exclusive dependency on Russian policy.” Russia’s foreign policy closely aligns with its energy strategy in the country where it is building an oil pipeline network.

The report says that Russian efforts, which began in 2008 when Macedonia made some initial steps to join NATO, paid off. In 2014, Macedonia refused to join the West and adopt sanctions against Russia for its invasion in Ukraine.

The documents also show collaboration between Russian and Serbian intelligence, particularly concerning the ethnic Albanian minority which makes up almost a quarter of the population. Albanians have pushed for greater autonomy in Macedonia, bringing the country to the brink of civil war in the early 2000s, and Russian agents have attempted to both influence and offer financial support to news outlets aimed at the country’s Albanian minority while Serbian intelligence has focused on bolstering nationalist forces in Macedonia.

Read OCCRP’s full report.