Russia employs a range of tools to influence the course of events in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This chapter presents an analysis of such tools, taking into account Russian political influence, economic influence, its influence through security and military cooperation, Russian malign influence, and its influence through the media and disinformation. Figure 2 is an overview of the factors discussed. Russian and local actors through which Russia maintains a grip on the region are discussed throughout the sections.

Figure 2
Russian tools of influence in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina
Russian tools of influence in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina

Russia’s political influence in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina

Although the Western Balkans are not of central importance to Russian foreign policy, Russia has forged political links with Serbia, Montenegro and BiH that provide it with varying degrees of leverage. Apart from government-to-government relations, Russia has committed to building relations with political proxies, thereby employing consistent political narratives revolving around traditional values and pan-Slavism. The Kremlin’s position on Kosovo in particular has yielded influence among ethnic Serb politicians and societies in the three countries. Lastly, links with the Orthodox Church amplify pro-Russian political narratives in the region.

Political relations

In terms of political integration, BiH, Serbia and Montenegro have, as a result of their years-long EU accession processes, a far more institutionalised relationship with the EU than with Russia. Russian-led multilateral efforts like the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) do not stretch to the Western Balkans, with two partial exceptions: Serbia’s observer status in the CSTO and its free-trade agreement with the EEU.[35] While simultaneously being connected to these initiatives and negotiating accession to the EU, Serbia is also keen to nurture relations with other regions, as exemplified by its hosting of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in 2021.[36]

In the absence of strong multilateral frameworks, relations between the three south-eastern European states and Russia are predominantly forged through bilateral cooperation. There are strong differences between the countries, as is clear from the number of bilateral meetings, as shown in Figure 3. Russian-Serbian relations are marked by declarations of like-mindedness, historical partnership, and brotherhood. Serbia and Russia have signed cooperation agreements on numerous issues, ranging from trade, defence, foreign policy and energy to visa-free travel. Montenegro, on the other hand, is on Russia’s list of so-called non-friendly states, and, especially after it joined NATO, largely regarded by Moscow as an adversary rather than ally.[37] BiH’s state-level relations with Russia are limited. Instead, engagement is mostly through the Republika Srpska (RS) entity. RS-Russia relations are perhaps even more explicit than Serbian-Russian relations, mainly because the RS political leadership, impersonated by the entity’s long-term ruler, Milorad Dodik, expresses strong ‘demand’ for such Russian influence.[38] In the past five years, Dodik has visited Moscow more times than any other European politician. He decorated Putin with the highest RS medal of honour in January 2023 and was decorated by Putin with the Order of Alexander Newysk in June 2023.[39]

Differences between Montenegro, BiH and Serbia are also apparent in their responses and actions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Whereas the three countries all voted to condemn Russian aggression on Ukraine in a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) vote early March 2022, follow-up actions have differed.[40] Montenegro has fully aligned with EU sanctions on Russia since 2014, whereas Serbia has hinted at but so far refused to impose any sanctions.[41] Also, BiH has failed to impose sanctions, mainly because of resistance from RS leader Milorad Dodik, who on the contrary sought to intensify economic relations with Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.[42]

Figure 3
State visits and important political contact moments, 2020–2023
State visits and important political contact moments, 2020–2023

Influence through political proxies

Importantly, Russian political influence in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is not all-encompassing, but, particularly in Montenegro and BiH, is wielded through political proxies representing only part of the political spectrum. Even among these proxies, different levels of Russia-mindedness can be observed, with most of them being primarily self-interested and some actively searching to balance relations with other external powers also. Russia has, however, become reliant on certain proxies to such an extent that it continuously supports them in spite of their dominantly self-interested agendas, which often, but not always, overlap with Russian objectives.[43]

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia relies strongly on RS president and leader of the Bosnian-Serb party SNSD (Alliance of Independent Social Democrats) Milorad Dodik, who has presented himself for years as the Balkan leader most loyal to Moscow.[44] Russia has in the past directly financed Dodik’s elections campaigns and, according to an expert, the country is the prime investor in RS, although that does not appear in official statistics.[45] Apart from Dodik, other politicians in RS, for example Nenad Stevandić from the United Srpska (US) party, can also be regarded as pro-Russian.[46]

Russia’s support for RS politicians is clear for several reasons, for example from the behaviour of its ambassador Igor Kalbukhov, who attended the 9 January RS parade in Banja Luka in spite of a ban by BiH’s highest court. Kalbukhov also threatened that Russia would be forced to take action if BiH takes steps towards NATO integration. At the same time, also in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, political forces like the Bosnian-Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) of Dragan Čović sometimes act in the Russian interest, for example when Čović and his fellow HDZ senators voted against aligning with EU sanctions towards Russia in BiH’s House of Peoples.[47] Moreover, on 23 June 2023 the US Embassy in BiH condemned Čović for obstructing the Southern Interconnection natural gas pipeline, which would reduce BiH dependence on Russian gas, declaring that ‘BiH is at energy crossroads, and HDZ BiH is blocking the path to European integration and energy security.’[48] In Montenegro, Russia became more influential in 2020 when pro-Russian and pro-Serbian parties ousted the long-term parliamentary dominance of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), headed by long-term president Milo Đukanović. In particular, the Za budućnost Crne Gore (For the Future of Montenegro) movement of Andrija Mandic and Milan Knežević, formerly known as the Democratic Front Alliance, garnered about 15% of the votes in the 2023 parliamentary elections and can be regarded as pro-Russian. There is proof of direct funding from the Kremlin for the parties making up the alliance.[49] Their politicians campaigned against Montenegro’s NATO integration, visited Moscow for meetings with Russian politicians in 2016, and signed the so-called Lovćen Declaration on cooperation between Knežević’ Democratic People's Party and the United Russia party.[50] They were also convicted in a first-instance verdict for their alleged participation in the 2016 coup attempt, although a retrial will be held after a higher court overturned that decision due to procedural mistakes.[51]

On the other hand, the Europe Now! Movement of the April 2023 elected president Jakov Milatović, who ousted long-term DPS leader Milo Đukanović from power, is nominally firmly focused on EU integration and domestic reforms. Europe Now!, which won the most seats in the June 2023 parliamentary elections, has, however, also taken a more pro-Serb position in the Orthodox Church rifts that split Montenegro in the past few years, and different factions within the party have different geopolitical outlooks.[52] As numerous unknowns remain regarding Europe Now’s orientation, time will be needed to realistically assess their actual goals and policies.

In Serbia, a larger proportion of the political scene has forged strong ties with Russia. Russia’s position as a UN Security Council member that supports Serbia’s position on Kosovo is the main source of Russian influence over Serbia’s political landscape. It largely explains why the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) government of President Aleksandar Vučić has openly pursued a Russia-friendly foreign policy, including after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The previous Minister of Internal Affairs and current head of Serbia’s Security Intelligence Agency, Aleksander Vulin, is perhaps the most outspoken and influential pro-Russian political actor in the country. He travelled to meet Lavrov in Moscow in August 2022 and is suspected of delivering wiretaps of a Russian opposition meeting in Belgrade to Russia’s Security Council Secretary Patrushev.[53] Coalition partner SPS (Socialist Party of Serbia), led by Ivica Dačić, is generally regarded as pro-Russian as well.

A more extreme far-right proxy exists in the form of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) of Vojislav Šešelj, a far-right war criminal convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and once regarded as the political mentor of current president Vučić. Although his party is currently not represented in Parliament, far right parties have not disappeared from Serbia’s political scene. The ultra-nationalist party Srpska stranka Zavetnici, or Serbian Party Oathkeepers (SSZ), led by Milica Đurđević Stamenkovski, retains an openly pro-Russian and anti-NATO course. Other factions, such as the National Democratic Alternative (NADA) and Dveri-POKS, also pursue nationalistic conservative agendas, for example advocating for the reintegration of Kosovo.

Russian support for far-right Serb political forces has a destabilising effect not only in Serbia but also in its neighbouring countries. That is because these politicians (as well as nationalistic proxy groups) generally hold positive views on the creation of a Greater Serbia as propagated in the 1990s by former Serb president Milošević, or Srpski Svet (Serbian world), a term forged in 2014 and similar to the irredentist ideology of the Russkiy Mir (Russian world). By supporting these actors, Russia undermines the stability and the sovereignty of neighbouring countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Montenegro.[54] Such ideologies also constitute an important aspect of Serbia’s non-recognition of Kosovo, which hosts a considerable Serbian community as well as many sites of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Russian political narratives

Russia employs various narratives in its approach towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia that resonate well with substantial sections of their populations. The central notions of these narratives revolve around the ideas of: a) Russia as the defender of Christian-Orthodox traditional values; b) a pan-Slavic link between the peoples of Russia and the Western Balkans; c) the degeneration of the collective West; d) a need for strong leaders ready to defend their country and values in today’s world; e) NATO expansion as a cause for the war in Ukraine; and f) territorial integrity as an argument for support of Serbia’s position on Kosovo.[55]

Such narratives resonate well in some sections of society in all three countries, given their conservative nature and lack of longstanding democratic tradition, as well as a sense of disappointment with EU integration after what many consider as 20 years in the EU ‘waiting room’. [56] However, importantly, support for the EU and Russia are not necessarily communicating vessels, meaning that those who are pro-EU are not necessarily anti-Russian, and vice-versa.. Besides, while many people in the three countries support narratives on conservative values, at the same time they mock Russia’s performance on the battlefield in Ukraine.[57] It would be too much of a simplification to classify people as simply pro-Russian or pro-EU, as such classifications fail to account for local interests and orientations.

Political influence through the Orthodox Church

A particularly visible actor in spreading Russian narratives is the Serbian Orthodox Church, estimated to have about 8 million members of which most in the three countries examined, thereby having substantial societal influence.[58] De jure, the Serbian Orthodox Church is autocephalous and as such not subordinated to the Patriarchate in Moscow. De facto, the Serbian Orthodox Church retains close ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, which is closely connected with the Kremlin and has presented itself as a solid supporter of Russia’s foreign policies, including its invasion of Ukraine.

Russian influence through the Orthodox Church works in several ways. First, the Serbian Orthodox Church replicates a large part of the Russian narratives presented above, thereby not only spreading conservative values but also political viewpoints of partnership between Russia and the three countries. It ‘provides religious legitimacy to domestic and foreign state policies’ in Serbia, but also promotes Serb nationalism and anti-Western agendas in Montenegro and BiH, for example when it campaigned strongly against Montenegro’s 2017 NATO accession.[59]

Second, Russia actively amplifies church rifts in the region to sow division and destabilise societies at large. For example, in Montenegro, a separate Montenegrin Orthodox Church exists, but it is not recognised by the Patriarch of Constantinople or the Russian Orthodox Church, and about 90% of Montenegrin Orthodox believers have remained with the Serbian church instead.[60] After Montenegro passed a controversial freedom of religion law in 2019 that would see properties of religious organisations transferred to the Montenegrin state upon certain conditions, the Russian Orthodox Church was quick to take a political position in the debate, while prominent Serbian clergy organised and led street protests.[61]

Third, the Serbian Orthodox Church supports nationalist and far-right groups and individuals who often advocate for closer ties with Russia. For example, it has twice decorated abovementioned Vojislav Šešelj, and endorsed the viewpoints of groups such as Narodne Patrole. The Church has given tacit support to Milorad Dodik’s secessionist agenda in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Patriarch Porfirije himself taking part prominently in the banned 9 January Republika Srpska victory parade in 2022.[62] In effect, the Orthodox Church is both a channel for Russian narratives, a tool employed by Russia to sow divisions, and a political actor in itself that supports pro-Russian politicians and Serb nationalism in the three countries.

In conclusion, Russia’s political clout stretches especially to (pro-)Serb politicians, who often make use of similar narratives and use Russia as an external supporter to promote their own ideas. Political relations between Russia and the three countries, unlike those with the EU, remain, however, fragmented and under-institutionalised. While this may be a deliberate strategy, it is determined by the entry points the context offers, which are more limited than in the case of Russia’s more direct neighbours. Of the three countries, entry points for Russian influence are most widespread In Serbia, followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina. Russia has, however, continued to unconditionally support nominally pro-Russian politicians in all three countries, including by directly financing their parties. Especially regarding its position on Kosovo, support for RS leader Milorad Dodik and Orthodox Church links remain important entry points for Russian political influence in the region at large.

Russian influence through security and military cooperation: a story coming to an end?

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Moscow’s security involvement in the Western Balkans has toned down but not become insignificant. Due to the region’s history and geographical location – being bordered by EU and NATO member states – and in contrast with the Eastern Partnership countries, Russia has no military presence in the Western Balkans. As such, it must resort to other, hybrid, methods to stir up unresolved conflicts and instability. Nevertheless, Russia still manages to maintain some military and security links with its main allies, Serbia and the Republika Srpska (RS). It does so through military pacts, joint exercises, military training and arms supplies. However, with NATO member Montenegro, such cooperation is wholly absent. Montenegro’s (as well as Albania’s and North Macedonia’s) NATO accession highlights the fact that Russia has in the past few years largely failed to prevent the overall integration of the region with Euro-Atlantic institutions in spite of its obstructive agenda.

Figure 6
Map of EU and/or NATO members in south-east Europe
Map of EU and/or NATO members in south-east Europe

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Serbia has continued to hold observer status within the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), even if in practice contacts have been limited. Serbia has officially proclaimed military neutrality since 2007, but has participated in several ‘Slavic Brotherhood’ joint military exercises and a military initiative involving the Serbian, Russian and Belarusian armed forces.[83] Belgrade displayed some sensitivity to EU pressure when it froze its participation in the 2020 exercises without notifying Minsk beforehand, although it re-joined the exercises from 2021 until the Russian invasion of Ukraine one year later.[84] Factually, even if politically sensitive in the country, NATO is a much more important partner to Belgrade.[85] As a NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) country, Serbia has undertaken significantly more military exercises with NATO than with Russia.[86] Serbia’s first joint military exercise since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 is the ‘Platinum Wolf’ exercise with NATO.[87] At the same time, Serbia’s Director of the Security Information Agency, Aleksandar Vulin, attended an international security conference in Moscow in May 2023.[88] It is unclear whether the country would be willing to face further pressure from the currently geopolitically awakened EU if any further joint exercises were to be initiated by Russia.

The Russian-Serbian security relation includes arms supplies. Moscow provided Belgrade with air defence systems, anti-tank weapons, drones and other military hardware between 2018 and 2021.[89] These deliveries were part of a military technical assistance agreement signed by both parties in 2016 to support Belgrade in modernising its military. Even as Russia has been Serbia’s most consistent supplier of military equipment since that year, Russia is not the only game in town.[90] According to the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database, in 2022 China exported more arms to Serbia (320TIV) than Russia did between 2016 and 2022 (306TIV).[91] When it comes to arms deliveries, it is furthermore relevant to mention that Serbia itself has, according to leaked US intelligence documents, and in spite of its professed neutrality, exported arms to Ukraine in the past year. This was vehemently denied by Serbia itself at first, although Serbian president Vučić later admitted that Serbian ammunition was possibly sold to Ukraine through intermediaries and that he is not opposed to that.[92]

Russia also cooperates with the Republika Srpska entity in the security domain, specifically regarding counterintelligence, counterterrorism and police training.[93] Western actors are concerned with the militarisation of the RS police as well as the potential construction of another Russian operational (officially ‘humanitarian’) centre, similar to its facility in Niš (Serbia).[94] Sarajevo also claims that RS is trying to procure Russian anti-aircraft missiles. Such arms deliveries could contribute to future tensions and are concerning, as the RS entity also acquired 2,500 automatic rifles from Serbia.[95] RS cooperation with Russia goes against Bosnia’s cooperation with NATO, which has, in spite of resistance and delaying tactics from RS, gradually increased in the past years. The country has had a PfP agreement with NATO since 2006, was offered a Membership Action Plan in 2010, and as part of that effort submitted a so-called Reform Programme in 2019.[96]

To summarise, Russia seeks to maintain its military cooperation with its main partner, Serbia, while also supporting the militarisation of Republika Srpska. Belgrade is satisfied with its current degree of cooperation with Moscow but seeks to avoid becoming Russia’s foothold in the Balkans. In reality, Russia is only one of multiple security actors in the Balkans, overshadowed by NATO and challenged by China.

Russian malign influences: proxy groups, cyber attacks and meddling in internal affairs

While presenting itself as a partner to Serbia and the RS in particular, Russia also resorts to malign actions to influence developments in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It supports non-state paramilitary, criminal and cyber groups in the region, and interferes in political affairs to the scale of supporting political coups. Russia furthermore facilitates direct cyber-attacks from Russia, and Russian private military companies like Wagner recruit citizens to fight for private military cooperations in Ukraine.

Russia employs existing non-state organisations, organised crime groups and hacker societies in the Western Balkans to destabilise the region and further its influence. Moscow does not directly coordinate actions led by such actors, but instead supports their activities in an informal manner and through a multitude of actors such as oligarchs, representatives of the Orthodox Church, or political proxies. At the same time, local malign groups sometimes operate in line with Russian interests while lacking direct engagement with Russia. As such, Moscow is not always engaged, but if so, it is in an indirect manner, making involvement difficult to prove.

Proxy groups

The infamous ‘Night Wolves’ biker group is one of Moscow’s proactive proxy groups, with local chapters in Serbia, Montenegro and BiH. In 2018, Russia allegedly provided the group with a $41,000 grant to tour the Western Balkans and demonstrate in support of Milorad Dodik and his ambition of the ‘peacefully disintegration’ of BiH.[97] ‘Serbian Honour’, another proxy, is a far-right group with links to organised crime active in Serbia and RS and was allegedly established in the ‘Russian-Serb Humanitarian Centre’ in Niš. In 2018, its BiH faction was reported to act as Dodik’s personal security force, but more recently, the group has diminished in importance, seemingly because of earlier overexposure.[98]

For both Serbian Honour and the Night Wolves, it would go too far to label the organisations as ‘paramilitary’, given their lack of a military-like structure. The only proxy group that to a certain extent resembles a military organisation is the 2016 founded ‘Union of Cossacks of the Balkans’.[99] Viktor Zaplatin, one of the prominent Union’s leaders, served in the Soviet army. The Union’s main mission is to promote pro-Russian, conservative and Orthodox narratives and push back on the ‘imposition’ of western values.[100]

Another, recently visible, proxy group is the Serbian group Narodne Patrole, or national patrol, led by Damnjan Knežević, one of the founders of the far-right political party Serbian Oathkeepers. Knežević travelled to the then newly opened Wagner Centre in St Petersburg in November 2022. He was arrested in February 2023 over violent protests in Belgrade against Serbia’s normalisation process with Kosovo but released soon after.[101] The group can be described as ultra-nationalist, anti-migration, and openly pro-Russian and pro-Wagner. It remains unclear to what extent they actively facilitate Wagner activities in Serbia.

In addition to the proxy groups, Russian oligarchs have also set foot in the region. A prime example is Konstantin Malofeev, an oligarch and founder of the Charitable Foundation of St Basil the Great, an organisation that seeks to spread the Russian Orthodox faith, a key asset for reaching out to conservative groups in the Balkans.[102] Malofeev was implicated in the early organisational stages of the 2016 Montenegro coup.[103] Interestingly, Malofeev’s spiritual adviser is the Orthodox priest Bishop Tikhon, who is also Putin’s spiritual adviser. Although not all of these actors are directly coordinated by the Kremlin, many proxy groups, Orthodox brotherhoods, Russian oligarchs and Orthodox figures form a loosely connected network across the Balkans.[104] According to an interviewee, they are organised locally in order to maintain a low profile, but when deemed necessary by Russia, they are quickly united, such as happened in the pro-Russia protest in Belgrade in March 2022.[105]

While explicit public evidence is lacking, support and training of malign groups is believed to take place through the ‘Humanitarian’ Centre in Niš, Serbia. Formally intended for disaster relief, the centre is believed by the West to be an intelligence centre and is suspected of hosting military training for paramilitary units. Vucic’s government has so far refused to grant diplomatic status to the centre’s Russian staff.[106] Rumours surfaced in 2018 about the construction of a similar centre in RS near Banja Luka but are denied by the Russian Embassy in Sarajevo and after 2018 no further reports have been published.[107]

Political and digital interference

Another form of Russian malign actions is meddling in political affairs. The most prominent example is the 2016 political coup attempt in Montenegro as the country was about to join NATO. The coup failed as a result of poor organisation, mainly because Russia relied on a loose web of proxies, including radical Serb nationalists and Night Wolves, but also the earlier-mentioned Democratic Front politicians. Several backed out just days before. Although concerning, the episode shows that Russia is not the strategic mastermind it is sometimes believed to be.[108] In the wake of the failed coup, 13 people, including two Russian intelligence (GRU) officers (in absentia), Eduard Shirokov and Vladimir Popov, were convicted, although a retrial is currently underway.[109] So far, no other coup attempts at such scale have been discovered, although Russian-Serbian relations did take a limited hit over a Russian espionage operation revealed in 2019, in which a retired military officer was seen taking large sums of cash from a Russian diplomat.[110]

Russia also uses cyber-attacks to destabilise the Balkans. Montenegro is the most targeted country in south-east Europe. On the same day of the coup attempt, the Montenegrin authorities were struck by cyber-attacks. Attacks were attributed to the APT28 group, also known as Fancy Bear, which is claimed by the US to be tied to the Russian intelligence organisation, GRU.[111] It is of some concern that Montenegro has the second-lowest regional score on the Global Cybersecurity Index, while Bosnia and Herzegovina scores lowest.[112] In August 2022, Montenegro’s government websites and critical infrastructure systems were targeted by largescale cyber-attacks. Despite Cuba ransomware – a Russian-speaking gang – claiming responsibility for part of the attack, the Montenegrin National Security Agency blamed the attack on Russia, stating that some organisations are a disguise to hide Russian government involvement.[113]

Private military corporations

Lastly, amidst the war in Ukraine, signals regarding the recruitment of Serb and Bosnian nationals to join Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have also come to the fore. It is estimated that a few dozen Serb nationals are currently fighting alongside Russian forces in Ukraine, meaning numbers are not substantial.[114] Recruitment to the Wagner group has been facilitated by veterans organisations, such as those from the RS capital, Banja Luka (affiliated to Serbian Honour), which retain close links with Russian counterparts.[115] Serbian Cossack groups are also believed to be a tool of Russian influence in the region, and are also potential sources of recruits.[116] The most visible recruitment effort was perhaps in early 2023, when Russia Today’s Balkans service published a Wagner advertorial to join the private military company in Ukraine.[117] Wagner murals also appeared in Serbia and North Kosovo.[118] The Serbian central government firmly condemned Wagner’s mercenary activities in the country.[119]

To conclude, Russia resorts to malign instruments which have often proven to be effective in shaping the political environment of the Western Balkans. Lacking a military presence in the region, Russia supports far-right nationalist figures and organisations, which generally better resemble organised crime groups than paramilitary organisations, to attain its goal of destabilisation by stirring up polarisation and anti-Western sentiment. Although such malign influence has not succeeded in distancing the Balkan countries from their rapprochement with the West, Russia has allowed malign actors to become more active in the region to the point of destabilising entire governments.

Media and disinformation as successful tools to spread Russian narratives

Russia’s influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia may be most visible through its ability to promote its narratives and spread disinformation via (social) media. Such influence runs through Russian media active in those countries, penetration of Russian narratives in local media, and Russian disinformation campaigns via social media.

In recent years, Russia has increased its involvement in the Balkans media sphere using local outlets as a means to disseminate pro-Russian narratives and foster anti-Western sentiment. Two prominent tools employed are the Serbia-based propaganda giants RT Balkan and Sputnik, which publish content in the Serbian language.[120] The US Department of State’s Global Engagement Centre holds that these media organisations use ‘the guise of conventional international media outlets to provide disinformation and propaganda support for the Kremlin’s foreign policy objectives’. This perception is supported not only by the propagandist content, but also by the fact that journalists working for Sputnik Srbija are paid directly by Moscow.[121] RT Balkan is expected to launch a television channel by 2024.[122] Although RT and Sputnik only have offices in Serbia, the propagation of fake news, disinformation and Russian propaganda has spilled over into Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, facilitated by the similarity of the languages. Sputnik is working closely with media outlets in Republika Srpska, which publish news in the Serbian language such as the TV station RTRS, the news agency Srna and the station ATV, providing a platform for RS president Dodik which he has used to spread secessionist calls.[123]

Russian media’s lack of restrictions on access to content is a meaningful aspect of their influence on local media. Given structural underfunding issues that media in the region cope with, Russian portals provide content free of charge, which in turn, allows local media to republish information sourced directly from Sputnik and RT, who thereby uncritically replicate Russian narratives.[124] Although the direct reach of RT Balkans and Sputnik is limited, they do have an effect on the wider media landscape. For example, various tabloids had no problem with publishing headlines that read ‘Ukraine attacked Russia’ or ‘America is pushing the world into chaos’ when Russia invaded Ukraine.[125]

Russian narratives’ in local media, apart from the cited Russian channels, has mostly come about as a result of local initiatives rather than direct Russian involvement.[126] As a systemic trend in Serbia and Republika Srpska in particular, media outlets are strongly influenced by political forces that support pro-Russian discourses.[127] For example, the Serbian public broadcaster RTS owns popular TV channels which attract up to a quarter of the Serbian audience and effectively convey pro-government messages.[128] Other, private TV stations, notably TV Pink, also spread pro-government messages and are closely connected to the Serbian government. Apart from TV, daily newspapers like Politika and tabloids like Informer spread pro-Russian narratives in Serbia.[129]

Russian narratives easily penetrate the collective unconscious especially as the media literacy level in the region is relatively low.[130] Pro-Russian views in the three countries do not come solely from media reporting – they build on existing supportive sentiments towards Russia in parts of the societies, arising from historical ties, shared conservative values, statements by politicians, and other factors. Nevertheless, there is a correlation between the presence of pro-Russian narratives in the media and popular beliefs in the three countries examined in this study.

A survey conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations in summer 2021 revealed that 54% of Serbians regarded Russia as an ally, while another 41% viewed it as a necessary partner.[131] In the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Serbian attitudes towards Russia exhibited only minimal change. A mid-2022 poll reported that, even in the midst of the conflict in Ukraine, 51% of Serbs consider Russia their most crucial partner, 66% regard Moscow as their country’s ‘greatest friend’ and 61% of Serbs hold the West accountable for the outbreak of the war.[132] In Republika Srpska, 52% support Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Even in Montenegro, a NATO member, 37% of those polled admitted having a positive opinion of Vladimir Putin.[133] Russian disinformation is also increasingly pervasive in the social media sphere. For example, in July 2022, amidst escalating tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, Russians and pro-Russian Telegram channels were spreading false information about the situation in the Russian and Serbian languages – information that was eventually denied by the Serbian and Kosovar authorities.[134] Also, a ‘troll farm’ suspected to be active during the 2016 US presidential elections was active in spreading disinformation during the 2018 Macedonian referendum on the name change of the country.[135] Russian embassies in the region have also been employing social media for disinformation purposes, seeking to attract support for the country’s policies.[136]

Some online disinformation originates from the region itself. In 2020, Twitter shut down 8,558 bot accounts linked to the Serbian Progressive Party that fuelled social media with news promoting the Serbian government and attacking opponents.[137] In recent years, the popularity of digital media has grown swiftly in the region, even if television has remained the most consumed type of media.[138] As such, as the least regulated media market in the region, the internet has become an important arena for disinformation.[139]

In summary, Russian propaganda penetrates Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina through Russian-funded portals, local media and social media. The impact of Russian media in the Western Balkans cannot be overstated, as local and European news outlets constitute a notable proportion of the region’s media realm.[140] Nevertheless, Russian disinformation and narratives have penetrated the region to such an extent that considerable sections of society hold a positive image of Russia and its political leadership.[141]

Serbia interested in developing observer cooperation with the CSTO PA,’’ Parliamentary Assembly of the CSTO, February 27, 2023; CSTO, “Eurasian Economic Free Trade Agreement,”
Non-aligned movement Summit begins in Belgrade,” RadioFreeEurope, October 11, 2021.
Hamza Karcic, “Putin’s most loyal Balkan client,” Foreign Policy, October 7, 2022.
Una Hajdari, “EU, US slam Bosnian Serb leader for awarding Putin highest honor,’’ Politico, January 9, 2023; N1, “RT: Putin awards Dodik with Order of Alexander Nevsky”, June 6, 2023.
Montenegro recently established the QUAD group, which seeks full alignment with the EU’s Common Foreign Security Policy, together with North Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo. See: Samir Kajosevic, “New Montenegrin Govt maintains Russia sanctions, deferring to EU,” Balkan Insight, December 14, 2020; “Four Western Balkan countries launched ‘100% alignment with CFSP’ platform,” European Western Balkans, March 29, 2023; Tamara Milošević Grbić, Zoran Radosavljevic, “Serbian FM hints at possible Russia sanctions,” Euractiv, January 26, 2023.
Maxim Samorukov, “Surviving the War: Russia-Western Balkan Ties After the Invasion of Ukraine,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace April 25, 2023.
Una Hajdari, “EU, US slam Bosnian Serb leader for awarding Putin highest honor,” Politico, January 9, 2023; Samir Beharic, “Bosnia and Herzegovina: a geopolitical mission for the EU,” Europe and Russian on the Balkan Front: Geopolitics and Diplomacy in the EU’s Backyard, Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, March 2023, 104.
Jelena Dzankic, Simonida Kacarska, Soeren Keil, “A Year Later: War in Ukraine and Western Balkan (Geo)Politics,” European University Institute, 2023, 103; Interview, expert, 26 April 2023, Sarajevo.
Interview, expert, 26 April 2023, Sarajevo; “RS entity Parliament Speaker in Moscow: We will not join anti-Russian hysteria,” N1 Sarajevo, February 22, 2023.
Majda Ruge, “The Past and the furious: How Russia’s revisionism threatens Bosnia,” European Council on Foreign Relations, September13, 2022; Paul Stronski, “Russia in the Balkans After Ukraine: A Troubling Actor,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 20, 2022.
Jelena Dzankic, Simonida Kacarska, Soeren Keil, “A Year Later: War in Ukraine and Western Balkan (Geo)Politics,” European University Institute, 2023, 103.
Samir Kajosevic, “Defence to offer ‘secret files’ evidence in Montenegro çoup plot’ retrial,” BalkanInsight, April 10, 2023.
Online interview with Montenegrin expert, May 9, 2023.
Orhan Dragaš, “Serbia’s Vulin in Moscow – a disaster for Belgrade,” Euractiv, August 24, 2022.
Hamza Karcic, “Serbia Is Taking a Page Out of Russia’s Book,” Foreign Policy, April 24, 2023.
The latter is rather contradicting as Russian president Putin also misused the case of Kosovo as an argument for Russia’s recognition of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. See N1, ‘Putin: Right to recognise Donbas republics same as how Kosovo got recognition’, June 18, 2022.
Interview with experts, 25 and 26 April 2023, Sarajevo.
Interview with expert, 25 April 2023, Sarajevo.
World Council of Churches, ‘Serbian Orthodox Church’, accessed 12 July 2023.
Harun Karčić, “Russia's Influence in the Balkans: The Interplay of Religion, Politics, and History,” Berley Forum, July 25, 2022; Mira Milosevich, “Russia’s Weaponization of Tradition: The Case of the Orthodox Church in Montenegro,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 25, 2020.
See Miloš Bešić, ‘Gdje je crnogorsko društvo 16 godina od obnove državne nezavisnosti?’, CEDEM, October 2022, 25.
The Law adopted in December 2019 prescribed that all religious objects/buildings that were property of the state of Montenegro before it lost its independence and joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes in 1918, and which later did not legally become the property of any religious community, are to be recognised as state property. See: Mira Milosevich, “Russia’s Weaponization of Tradition: The Case of the Orthodox Church in Montenegro,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 25, 2020.
Kenneth Morrison and Vesko Garčević, “The Orthodox Church, Montenegro, and the ‘Serbian World’,” Atlantic Initiative of Montenegro, February 21, 2023, 10.
Stanicek, Branislav, “Russia's influence in the Western Balkans,” ‌European Parliament Research Service, June 2022, 1; In Montenegro, natural gas is absent from the country’s energy mix. In Serbia, Russian gas company Gazprom owns the Petroleum Industry of Serbia. In BiH, NeftGazinKor owns the two most important Republika Srpska’s oil refineries and the oil company Petrolis. See: Milena Lazarevic, Sava Mitrovic, “The EU and Third actors in the Balkans. Relaunching enlargement, reviving credibility,” Europe and Russian on the Balkan Front: Geopolitics and Diplomacy in the EU’s Backyard, Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, March 2023, 19.
Sergiu Mitrescu, Vuk Vuksanovic, “The Wider Balkan Region: at the Crossroads of a New regional energy matrix,” Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, October 2022, 31.
Sergiu Mitrescu, Vuk Vuksanovic, “The Wider Balkan Region at the Crossroads of a New Regional Energy Matrix,” Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, October 2022, 29
Diversification is mainly sought through the construction of the IBS Gas pipeline between Serbia and Bulgaria. Also, the Serbian government has announced a €12 billion investment plan to diversify energy sources that foresees building interconnectors with other neighbouring countries. See: Euractiv, “Serbia’s Vucic lays out €12bn energy investment plan after oil ban”, October 22, 2022; Conversation with Serbian politician, 5 June 2023.
Paul Stronski, Annie Himes, “Russia’s Game in the Balka n s,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January, 2019, 6; “Russian oil refineries in Bosnia accumulating los s es,” N1 info, April 26, 2023.
Paul Stronski, Annie Himes, “Russia’s Game in the Balkans,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January, 2019, 6; Stanislav Secrieru, “Russia i n the W estern Balkans Tactical Wins, Strategic Setba c ks,” European Union Institute for Security Studies, July 2019, 3.
For example, the JANAF Croatian oil pipeline or the Bulgarian-Serbian pipeline – an extension of TurkStream. See: Marta Szpala, Andrzej Sadecki, “Serbia: The Forced Abandonment of Russian Oil,” Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW), October 13, 2022; International Monetary Fund, European Department, “Republic of Serbia: Third Review Under the Policy Coordination Instrument, Request for a Stand-By Arrangement, and Cancellation of the Policy Coordination Instrument-Press Release; Staff Report; and Statement by the Executive Director for the Republic of Serbia,’’ IMF, December 20, 2022, 66-67.
Marta Szpala, Andrzej Sadecki, “Serbia: The Forced Abandonment of Russian Oil,” Centre for Eastern Studies, October 13, 2022.
Branislav Stanicek, Anna Caprile, “Russia and the Western Balkans Geopolitical confrontation, economic influence and political interference,” European Parliament Research Service, April 2023, 4.
In 2021, the Serbian Agency for Business Registers assessed at 82 the number of Russian-owned businesses in Serbia. see: “Serbia Records Big Year For Foreign Direct Investment, Despite Ukraine War,” RadioFreeEurope, January 11, 2023.
Samir Kajosevic, “Russian Interest in Montenegrin Real Estate Spikes Despi t e Sanctions,” BalkanInsight, July 7, 2022; Dusica Tomovic, “Russians dominate foreign Ownership of Montenegrin companies,” BalkanInsight, August 18, 2016; Paul Stronski, Annie Himes, “Russia’s game in the Balkans,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 2019, 7.
In 2021, 10,8025 Russian tourists travelled to Montenegro, staying in total 1,140,173 nights. In 2022, 140,719 Russian tourists travelled to Montenegro, staying 1,843,299 nights. As such, on average Russian tourists spent 10.55 nights in the country in 2021 against 13.1 nights in 2022. See Montenegro Statistics Office, “Dolasci i noćenja turista, ukupno – 2021, godina,” and “Dolasci i noćenja turista, u individualnom smještaju, 2022 godina”, both accessed July 21, 2023.
Radio Slobodna Evropa, “Crna Gora izdala 404 ‘zlatna pasosa’”, October 14, 2022.
Andreas Ernst, “200,000 Russians have emigrated to Serbia. They are welcome, although often for the wrong reasons; a look at their lives,” Neue Zurcher Zeitung, April 21, 2023; The figures were sourced from Serbian media, See: “Nearly 300 Russian-owned firms registered in Serbia since Ukraine invasion,” Euractiv, April 7, 2022; “Rusi u Srbiji osnovali oko 800 privrednih društava i 2.100 radnji, dominira IT sector,” Radio Television of Serbia, November 11, 2022.
Andreas Ernst, “200,000 Russians have emigrated to Serbia. They are welcome, although often for the wrong reasons; a look at their lives,” Neue Zurcher Zeitung, April 21, 2023; “Country report: Serbia,” Asylum Information Database, updated version of December 31, 2022.
Marina Vulović, “Western Balkan Foreign and Security Ties w ith External Actors: An Arena of Geostrategic Rivalry for the EU or a Local Power Struggle?” German Institute for International and Security Affairs SWP, February 9, 2023.
Vuk Vuksanović, “Russia in the Balkans: Interests and Instruments,” Europe and Russia on the Balkan Front: Geopolitics and Diplomacy in the EU’s Backyard, Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, March 2023, 38.
In 2021, Belgrade participated in 14 military exercises with NATO against four similar exercises with Russia.
See: Vuk Vuksanović, “Russia in the Balkans: Interests and Instruments,” Europe and Russia on the Balkan Front: Geopolitics and Diplomacy in the EU’s Backyard, Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, March 2023, 39.
SIPRI, “Importer/Exporter TIV Tables,” Imports to Serbia, Years 2016-2022, summarised by recipient/supplier, accessed March 31, 2023.
TIV refers to Trend Indicator Value. It is a measuring unit developed by SIPRI to enable comparisons on conventional weapon deliveries representing the transfer of military resources instead of their mere financial value. See: SIPRI, “Sources and methods - 2. Explanation of the TIV tables,” accessed 31 March 2023.
Dr Arlinda Rrustemi, Professor Rob de Wijk, Connor Dunlop, Jovana Perovska, Lirije Palushi, “Geopolitical Influences of External Powers in the Western Balkans,’’ The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS), September 30, 2019, 124.
Paul Stronski, Annie Himes, “Russia’s Toolkit in the Balkans,” Carnegie Endowment for international Peace, January 2019, 15.
Dr Arlinda Rrustemi, Professor Rob de Wijk, Connor Dunlop, Jovana Perovska, Lirije Palushi, “Geopolitical Influences of External Powers in the Western Balkans,” The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, September 30, 2019, 124.
Membership Action Plan (MAP),” North Atlantic Treaty Organization, April 19, 2023; “Relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina,” North Atlantic Treaty Organization, July 12, 2022.
Dr Arlinda Rrustemi, Professor Rob de Wijk, Connor Dunlop, Jovana Perovska, Lirije Palushi, “Geopolitical Influences of External Powers in the Western Balkans,” The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, September 30, 2019, 123.
Vsevolod Scamokhvalov, “Russia in the Balkans: Great Power Politics and Local Response”, Insight Turkey, May 31, 2019; Stanislav Secrieru, “Russia in the Western Balkans: Tactical Wins, Strategic Setbacks,” European Union Institute for Security Studies, July 2019.
Jasna Vukicevic, Robert Coalson, “Russia's Friends Form 'Balkan Cossack Army,” RadioFreeEurope, October 18, 2016.
Mladen Obrenovic, “Under Cossack Banner, Russian Ties with Balkan Fighters Strengthened,’’ Balkan Insight, October 16, 2020.
Criminal complaints filed in Belgrade over Wagner recruiting in Serbia,’’ RadioFreeEurope, January 20, 2023; Dusan Komarcevic, “Serbian Right – Winger says Vagner ties could help if there’s ‘Conflict in Kosovo’,” RadioFreeEurope, December 6, 2022.
Conley Heather, Matthew Melino, “Russian Malign Influence in Montenegro: The Weaponization and Exploitation of History, Religion, and Economics,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 2019, 1.
Paul Stronski, Annie Himes, “Russia’s Gam e in t h e Balkans,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 2019, 11.
Paul Stronski, Annie Himes, “Russia’s Game in the Balkans,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 2019, 15, 16.
Interview with expert, Sarajevo, 26 April 2023.
Paul Stronski, Annie Himes, “Russia’s Toolkit in the Balkans,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2019, 15.
Vera Mironova, “Putin is building a Bosnian Paramilitary Force,’’ Foreign Policy, August 8, 2018.
Maksim Smorukov, “What’s behind the posturing of Russian Mercenaries in the Balkans?,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 6, 2023.
Jelena Dzankic, Simonida Kacarska, Soeren Keil, “A Year Later: War in Ukraine and Western Balkan (Geo)Politics,” European University Institute, 2023, 103; “Two Russian spies’ sentenced in Montenegro coup attempt,’’ Sky News, May 9, 2019.
Shaun Walker, “Serbian president accuses Russia of spy plot involving army,” The Guardian, November 21, 2019.
Paul Stronski, Annie Himes, “Russia’s Toolkit in the Balkans,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2019, 9.
The Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) evaluates the cybersecurity performance of countries. In 2020, Montenegro scored 52.23 (ranking 87), while BiH scored 29.44 (ranking 110), the lowest score in the Western Balkans. Serbia ranked 39 (89.8 score), North Macedonia ranked 38 (89.92 score) and Albania ranked 80 (64.32 score). See: International Telecommunication Union, ‘Global Cyber Security Index, 2020’, accessed July 13, 2023; “A recent look towards Cybersecurity in the Western Balkans: How can we improve the cybersecurity level in the region?” Metamorphosis, 2022.
Dusan Stojanoviv, “Montenegro wrestles with massive cyberattack, Russia blamed,” AP, September 12, 2022.
Maxim Samoruov, “What's behind the posturing of Russian mercenaries in the Balkans,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 6, 2023.
Vera Mironova, Bogdan Zawadewicz,Putin Is Building a Bosnian Paramilitary Force,” Foreign Policy, August 8, 2018; Dr Arlinda Rrustemi, Professor Rob de Wijk, Connor Dunlop, Jovana Perovska, Lirije Palushi, “Geopolitical Influences of External Powers in the Western Balkans,” HCSS Security, September 30, 2019, 124.
Mladen Obrenovic, “Under Cossack Banner, Russian Ties with Balkan Fighters Strengthened,’’ Balkan Insight, October 16, 2020.
Dusan Stojanovic, “US envoy says Russian Wagner Group’s activities intolerable,’’ AP, January 12, 2023.
See for example N1, ‘Mural dedicated to Russian ‘Wagner’ group appears in Belgrade,’ January 15, 2023.
Maxim Samorukov, “What the Wagner Mercenaries’ Row Reveals About Serbia’s Relations with Russia,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 26, 2023.
Samir Beharic, “Bosnia and Herzegovina: A geopolitical mission for the EU,’’ Europe and Russian on the Balkan Front: Geopolitics and Diplomacy in the EU’s Backyard, Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, March 2023, 101; NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence Riga, Latvia, “Russia’s narrative toward the western Balkans: analysis of Sputnik Srbija,” April 2020, 6.
Dr Thomas Brey, “Russian media in the Balkans, Case study: How Moscow‘s propaganda influences Serbia,” Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, January 2022, 8.
Vuk Vuksanovic, Srdjan Cvijic, Maksim Samorukov, “Beyond Sputnik and RT: How does Russian soft power in Serbia really work?” Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, December 2022, 13.
Dr Thomas Brey, “Russian media in the Balkans, Case study: How Moscow‘s propaganda influences Serbia,” Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, January 2022, 20.
Dragana Bajić, Wouter Zweers, “Declining media freedom and biased reporting on foreign actors in Serbia. Prospects for an enhanced EU approach,” Clingendael Institute, European Policy Centre, July 2020, 16-23; Dr Thomas Brey, “Russia media in the Balkans. Case study: How Moscow’s propaganda influences Serbia,” Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, January 2022, 4; Jovan Jovanović, “Russian Disinformation in the Western Balkans during the War in Ukraine,” Oslo Center, July 07, 2022.
Bojan Eleck, Maja Bjelos, “Is Kosovo a fuse for the Balkan powder keg?” Europe and Russian on the Balkan Front: Geopolitics and Diplomacy in the EU’s Backyard, Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, March 2023, 88.
Dr Arlinda Rrustemi, Professor Rob de Wijk, Connor Dunlop, Jovana Perovska, Lirije Palushi, “Geopolitical Influences of External Powers in the Western Balkans,” The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies HCSS Security, September 30, 2019, 122.
Aleksandra Srećković, Vladana Jaraković, Marija Stefanović, Tamara Branković, Lana Avakumović, Milena Manojlović, “Mapping the media landscape in Serbia 2020-2021,’’ CRTA, 2022, 41; Ulderico de Laurentiis, “The impact of Russian propaganda in the Balkans: methods, networks and strategies of disinformation,” The Conservative, February 8, 2023.
Serbia Media Guide,” BBC, January 20, 2023; Media Ownership Monitor, Serbia; “Serbia’s public TV ‘is being used against the public,” Mapping Media Freedom by European Centre for Press and Media, January 10, 2020.
Izabela Kisic, “The pro-Russian media campaign in Serbia,” Atlantic Initiative, March 21, 2022.
Marie Brethous, Nad’a Kovalčíková, “Next Level Partnership - Bolstering EU-NATO Cooperation to Counter Hybrid threats in the Western Balkans,” European Union Institute for Security Studies, February 22, 2023.
Joanna Hosa, Vessela Tcherneva, “Pandemic trends: Serbia looks east, Ukraine looks west,” European Council on Foreign Relations, August 5, 2021; Branislav Stanicek, Anna Caprile “Russia and the Western Balkans Geopolitical confrontation, economic influence and political interference,” European Parliament Research Service, April 2023.
Maxim Samorukov, Vuk Vuksanovic, “Untarnished by War: Why Russia’s Soft Power Is So Resilient in Serbia,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 18, 2023.
Maxim Samorukov, “What’s behind the posturing of Russian mercenaries in the Balkans?,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 6, 2023.
Asya Metodieva, “Russian narrative proxies in the Western Balkans,” The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), June 2019, 8.
Goran Georgiev, Ruslan Stefanov, “Russian disinformation in the Balkans: predating the invasion?” Euractiv, March 21, 2023.
In Serbia, the percentage of people informing themselves through the internet rose from 67% in 2018 to 81% in 2022. See: “Share of daily internet users in Serbia from 2007 to 2022,” Statista, last accessed June 16, 2023.
Dušan Reljić, “The impact of Russia,” Resilience in the Western Balkans, European Union Institute for Security Studies, August 2017, 47.
In Serbia, 91% of respondents have a somewhat or highly favourable opinion towards Russia. In BiH, that number stands at 49%, and in Montenegro at 60%. Regarding Putin, 43% of Bosnians had a favourable opinion, 56% of Montenegrins, and 88% of Serbs. This opinion poll was conducted just before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. See IRI, “2022 Western Balkans Regional Survey | January-February 2022,” June 29, 2022.