Disinformation Wave in January: Russian Influence in Sofia-Skopje Dispute

Милков и Османи во посета на Пендиков во Софија. Фото:

The latest strain on the relations between North Macedonia and Bulgaria and the (in)visible Russian touch in the process of escalation of relations proved to be a dominant tendency of the disinformation spreading in the Macedonian (but also in the Bulgarian) information sphere in January 2023. Apart from that, the trend of disinforming by means of Russian narratives concerning the aggression in Ukraine continues, although less intense than usual. Indeed, the analysis would not be complete without mentioning the “immortal” anti-vaxxer persistent disinformation

The latest strain on the relations between North Macedonia and Bulgaria and the (in)visible Russian touch in the process of escalation of relations proved to be a dominant tendency of the disinformation spreading in the Macedonian (but also in the Bulgarian) information sphere in January 2023. Apart from that, the trend of disinforming by means of Russian narratives concerning the aggression in Ukraine continues, although less intense than usual. Indeed, the analysis would not be complete without mentioning the “immortal” anti-vaxxer persistent disinformation



The entire sequence of events surrounding the Russian interference within the Bulgarian-North Macedonian relations slowly surfaced following the battering of the Secretary of the Bulgarian Club in Ohrid “Tzar Boris”, a man from Ohrid with Macedonian citizenship and Bulgarian self-awareness, Hristijan Pendikov. The battered person was evacuted in Sofia with the plane of the Government of Bulgaria, followed by a visit of the chief of diplomacy, Bujar Osmani in Sofia and a series of statements and responses from both Macedonian and Bulgarian sides, including several claims about the Russian influence in these events and in the escalation of the relations between the two countries.

Disinformation mainly referred to the alleged – paraphrasing – “extreme hate speech and actions occurring in North Macedonia systemically and constantly”, due to the existence of ”hatred policy toward Bulgarians in the country” and that the “country did nothing”.

Such (dis)information was not spread only by extreme politicians like the Member of the European Parliament, Angel Dzhambazki or the leader of the pro-Russian and anti-Macedonian party Prerodba (Rivaval), Kostadin Kostadinov, but became part of the official speech of the traditional political parties in the country, including the Vice-President of Bulgaria, Iliana Iotova, the President, Rumen Radev, who claim the existence of some kind of a decade-long policy of battering Bulgarians in the country. To follow suit with this kind of disinformation narratives, the former Prime-minister, Boyko Borisov, and the former Foreign Affairs Minister, Ekaterina Zaharieva, claim that such events and statements of Macedonian politicians ”bring North Macedonia closer to Serbia and Russia”.

These statements were made after the initial “blast” fired by the President of the RNM, Stevo Pendarovski, dated 23rd January. Namely, a few days after the Pendikov incident, the President convened the Security Council in its wider composition including Prime-minister, Dimitar Kovacevski, and the President of the Parliament, Talat Xhaferi. Upon its conclusion, the recommendation for the Government was to ban entrance of several persons or if they were in the country, to declare them non-grata as preventive measures in terms of the celebration of the anniversary of the birth of Goce Delcev scheduled for 4th February in Skopje.

Stevo Pendarovski. Photo: Cabinet of the President of the RNM/web

On a press-conference, talking about previous actions of the Security Services, Pendarovski said that three persons with Bulgarian citizenship were already expelled, out of whom two were apparently journalists and one was someone who was very vocal about the current affairs. The President added that he ”could not talk details”, but “some of the persons and structures” mentioned on the press-conference ”build onto the Russian Intelligence Service”(see 8.50 min. of the video). Among the people mentioned by Pendarovski, the public – but also he himself – recognized the Member of European Parliament, Angel Dzhambazki, the leader of the Bulgarian parliamentary party, Kostadin Kostadinov and the President of Foundation Macedonia, established last year by Viktor Stoyanov. A series of threats, disinformation and statements followed that, in actual fact, confirmed Pendarovski’s information that some of the activities of these people ”build onto the Russian intelligence services” and that “third-party” influence (according to Bujar Osmani that was the Russian Federation) was implemented in favour of the interests of that exact third-party, Moscow the only one named specifically.

More details on this are available in the summary info published by “Thruthmeter”. Later, another confirmation came from Milen Keremedchiev, former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria. At the same time, the hybrid-war statement of the Macedonian Minister of Internal Affairs, Oliver Spasovski, was practically validated also by the Bulgarian Member of Parliament Daniel Lorer who stated in a TV-interview for the Bulgarian NOVA that  the battered person is a Macedonian citizen with Bulgarian self-awareness,while the batterer was a Bulgarian citizen and that the whole case was politicized.

RF Embassy in RNM: Osmani is speculating about the “casualties of the Russian aggression in Ukraine”

17th January, the Russian Federation responded to the statements made by Bujar Osmani in Ukraine during his visit in the capacity of OSCE Chairperson, claiming that Osmani took a side when talking about the civilian war casualties, thereby decisively joining the propagandistic disinformation narrative of Moscow that aggression was merely a “special military operation”, a justified move of the Russian Federation, because they resorted to military force only to protect the Russians in Ukraine, especially after 2014 in the Eastern and Southern regions where ever since they have been victims of Ukrainian nationalists and Neo-fashists – as they were called:

Yesterday in Ukraine, the Chairperson of OSCE, Bujar Osmani, speculated about the “casulaties of the Russian aggression”, thereby accepting the propaganda of the regime in Kyiv. When he arrived in Kyiv however, Zelenskyy’s soldiers shelled Donetsk and Makiivka (in PRD): the dead and wounded were still under the rubble.

Up to now, Bujar Osmani has not mentioned the victims from the missiles of the Ukrainian Forces, nor the dead and wounded from the aggression of the Kyiv regime on Donbas from 2014 whose number is in thousands. “It’s about people”, really? – responds the Embassy of the RF in the RNM, published on Facebook and in Telegram, and taken over by several media in the Macedonian media area.

There was no official reaction by MFA of the RNM, i.e., Office of the OSCE Presidency, which has been chaired by North Macedonia and Bujar Osmani since January. The above-noted response from Moscow via the Embassy in Skopje however, was accompanied by a subsequent hacking of the website of OSCE in Skopje.

Who is Darko Todorovski?

In an investigative article, “Truthmeter” managed to clarify another piece of news spreading in the media sphere regarding an alleged fake journalist from North Macedonia who was living in Russia selling cheaply original stories from Russia, including stories from the battlefields in Ukraine to Bulgarian and Macedonian media. First to publish this information was the Bulgarian journalist Hristo Grozev in the beginning of January, claiming that the person’s name was Darko Todorovic i.e., Todorovski. “Truthmeter’s” research proved that such a person indeed existed. He was a Macedonian from Delcevo – a PhD candidate of the Presidential Academy in Moscow, Darko Todorovski, who really did publish stories from the Ukrainian battlefields. He even gave a statement for “Truthmeter” denying Grozev’s claim, but confirmed that he cooperated – and still is cooperating – with various portals, sites, media, companies in both Macedonia and Bulgaria but also in Serbia and in Russia.

Although not an established reporter in the country, Todorovski managed to get invited three times to the “press-tours” organized by Russia to Ukraine. From there his views and stories ended up in the Macedonian and Bulgarian media. Through his reports from various conferences with anti-Western narratives, positions in favour of Kremlin were subtly transmitted, and all that in the name of journalism and political science. In other words, persons interviewed by Todorovski or whose opinions are communicated do not differ much from the voice of Kremlin states the conclusion of the research on this person performed by “Truthmeter”.

German tanks destroyed in Tunisia in 1943 Photo: Internet/archives/several blogs and websites without a ban on use

Peskov: NATO tanks will burn – FB photos from Tunisia 1943

The decision to deliver American, German, British, French tanks as well as tanks from other countries was adopted and published within the period from 20th to 25th February, including its publication in the media in the RNM together wih the Russian responses, especially that of the Press Secretary, Dmitry Peskov, about NATO “tanks will burn”:

Kremlin’s Press Secretary, Dmitry Peskov, stated that the potential delivery of “Abrams” will be “a waste of money” on the daily briefing. “I’m sure that many experts understand the absurdity of the idea. The plan is a technological disaster. But, above all, it over-estimates the potential that the Ukrainian Army would gain. These tanks will burn along with all others, added Peskov.

Immediately after, the same message was disseminated on the social networks in Macedonian language, along with a photograph of German destroyed tanks in the Second World War (SWW):

This is how German tanks on the soil of Ukraine looked like during the Second World War and that is how German tanks will look like NOW on the soil of Ukraine after the decision of Berlin authorities to deliver its tanks to Ukraine in the fight against Russia…

Interestingly, the photograph although published several times from 2013 up to date on many online portals and blogs, is not from the Soviet or Ukrainian front in the SWW, but from the battle for El Guettar in Tunisia from March and April 1943.

Russian missile that split the building in Dnipro presented as Ukrainian

14th January in Dnipro, a town in Southeast Ukraine, a building was “split” in a large residential compound populated with civilians from a strike of a missile. According to the data from 17th January, at least 41 persons were killed, including several children, 79 people were wounded, while 39 were extracted three days after the strike, out of which 6 were children. This information was available on the Ukrainian media sources as official information published by Kyiv. Until 17th January, 25 persons were assumed missing therefore the number of casualties is still not final bearing in mind the situation with the wounded.

According to Ukrainian official sources, the missile striked was long-range of the type Kh – 22, with a warhead of approximately one ton that destroys everything within a radius of 600 metres from the target. The missile is an old type developed in the fifties and sixties of the last century in the USSR at the time which was intended for destroying naval targets. However, since last year it has also been used for land targets in Ukraine. On 17th January, a high-level Ukrainian officer warned that Russia might still have over a hundred of these missiles and that Ukrainian air-defence is powerless against them.

Civilian building in Dnipro demolished from the attack dated 14th January 2023. Photo: Wikipedia

Two days later – 16th January – faced with the large number of civilian casualties, Moscow started to create disinformation narrative putting the guilt with the Ukrainians. With no precise details, the Kremlin Press Secretary, Peskov, stated that:

The situation in Dnepr results from the actions of the Ukrainian air defence.

More details on this attack are available in the text of “Truthmeter”, also showing the absurdity of the disinformation narrative.

Nowadays the Ukrainian authorities showed how futile are disinformation narratives from Moscow by coming out with a precise accustaion, with the name and surname of the Russian aircraft officer who ordered the strike of civilian victims as well as a year-long chronology of such attacks executed upon the order of the same officer with hundreds of victims and even more people wounded. More can be found in the news published by the Ukrainian medium Babel.

The missile that destroyed the building in Dnipro Photo: Wikipedia

Games with the number of killed soldiers

In the beginning of January in the national media sphere one could have read that 600 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in one and the same day. According to global agencies that tried to fact-check this Russian information, it appears to be disinformation since material evidence from the field cannot substantiate such a claim. It is assumed that the Russian disinformation was spread to address the Ukrainian attack in Makiivka prior to the new year where hundreds of Russian soldiers were killed or wounded. This Russian disinformation was uncritically published in some Macedonian media, although more serious media published both sides of the initial information, and later on also the foreign sources, but also Russian bloggers, who inform that such information cannot be confirmed.

Medvedev again: Poland wants part of Ukraine!

The former Russian President and Prime-minister, Dmitry Medvedev is one of the leading Russian propagandists and broadcasters of fake narratives. 12th January, he striked again with a new story about Western Ukraine wanting or willing to be annexed by the “previous masters” – Poland. The occasion for this disiformation was the official meeting in Lavov between Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Polish highest-level representatives and Medvedev’s announcement was transmitted in the Macedonian media area:

In Lavov – that will be renamed Lemberg again – the Polish President, Andrzej Duda, Lithuanian President, Gitanas Nauseda, and Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, met and discussed relinguishing Western Ukrainian regions to their former masters, wrote Medvedev, reported TASS.

Evidently, this disinformation narrative was a coordinated operation of Kremlin because that very day in one of the Polish online media, a column was published from someone called Marek Gala about the same thing, and taken over by the national online medium Anropol, and further spread through social media. “Thruthmeter” checked the facts of this information in national media titled ”No longer a secret: Poland will claim part of Ukrainian territory”. Soon after that it became clear that neither Marek Gala was a real person – i.e., he is using a fake identity – nor was the editor of the Polish medium an actual person – he also was using a fake identity – because the publication of that same narrative was prevented by the Polish authorities back in April last year. It occurred again however, last October. More details can be found in the Truthmeter’s fact-check.

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In general, these are the main disinformation narratives from the Mcedonian media or social networks in January 2023. Indeed, the analysis would not be complete if we do not mention the “immortal” anti-vaxxer disinformation that is still persistent. “Truthmeter” continues to expose examples such as vaccine that causes AIDS, Covid plan for the death of more than 6 billion people, but also the classical conspiracy theories related to Bill Gates and mNRA vaccines, as well as other pieces of disinformation that can be accessed in the rubric Fact-checking.





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