Russian Disinformation Raising Foggy Anti-Western Sentiment in North Macedonia

Илустрација: Ѓорѓе Јовановиќ

Up until now, numerous disinformation narratives flooded our country through foreign channels to turn public opinion in favor of Russia, and detrimental to Ukraine since the beginning of the military invasion. The analysis of the five most frequent disinformation narratives, as well as conversations with security experts and political representatives indicate that Russian disinformation is not dominating in the public area, but very easily penetrates the media, social networks, and statements from prominent political figures, sometimes given outside of the context or purposefully fabricated


From: Miroslava Simonovska, 4 March 2024

Up until now, numerous disinformation narratives flooded our country through foreign channels to turn public opinion in favor of Russia, and detrimental to Ukraine since the beginning of the military invasion. The analysis of the five most frequent disinformation narratives, as well as conversations with security experts and political representatives indicate that Russian disinformation is not dominating in the public area, but very easily penetrates the media, social networks, and statements from prominent political figures, sometimes given outside of the context or purposefully fabricated


From: Miroslava Simonovska

Disinformation about laboratories for biological weapons funded by the US, discrediting the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and presenting Ukraine as a Nazi country while Russia and the Russian people in Ukraine as victims are just some of the narratives that are circulating since the beginning of the war, with the express purpose of manipulating the public opinion. The outcome lacks conviction. Russian propaganda does not dominate public opinion-making, though it very easily penetrates through several grounds and channels.

Photo: print screen from video

Russian aggression in Ukraine made a significant impact on the quantity of disinformation disseminated on topics related to foreign malign influence in the country in continuity since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, deems the professor at the Faculty of Security, Frosina Remenski. She emphasizes the predominant topics for disseminating foreign malign influence in the country that, according to her, primarily aim at satanizing the US as a global power.

They relativize the strategic goals of the USA of a stable and secure Western Balkans. They undermine the role of the EU in preventing economic, energy, and security crises to encourage rhetoric and thought on the search for alternatives. They advocate that the EU is in the phase of disintegrating and that EU accession is a long and expensive process that doesn’t pay off. Religion is abstractly connected with Orthodoxy, which in turn is related to Serbian and Russian church influence as opposed to all the different religions. The rhetoric on massive criminalization of pro-Western structures in the countries is intensified as opposed to the patriotic duty of pro-Russian structures presented as saviors of the identity and state from Western hegemony and American domination, says Remenski in a statement given to Truthmeter.

According to Remenski, such disinformation in the country is directed towards creating a perception that right-wing political parties have a mission to preserve Orthodoxy under the auspices of Russia and its influence on the Balkans, as opposed to the left-wing political parties that are related to the US and the EU. On the other hand, the US and EU are seen as against Orthodoxy and the Balkan countries in those disinformation pieces.

Disinformation was directed towards demonizing Ukraine as the source of Nazism and Fascism, the US as the enemy to Slav peoples, EU as the elite for all except the Western Balkan countries etc. says Remenski.

Pendarovski: Disinformation leads to a closed-off society

Photo: Stevo Pendarovski, during the participation in the Ukraine – Southeast Europe summit in Tirana, met with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky

In a statement given to Truthmeter, President Stevo Pendarovski says that disinformation is produced to harm democratic processes in societies, including public good and public interest.

“They are not unfamiliar to our society. Apart from the disinformation produced frequently in the country, we, in continuity, are subject of disinformation coming from foreign actors who enter the country usually through news and stories from online portals and then spread through social network accounts created both in our country, but also in our surroundings. These accounts are usually fake and established for the purpose of helping the massive dissemination of that disinformation. Otherwise, disinformation in the country is most often directed towards undermining Euro-Atlantic values, criticizing European societies, attacking the openness of societies, all for the purpose of unfounded support of conspiracy theories and promoting new values leading to closed societies and against our determined goals for democratic development, European and Euro-Atlantic integration” deems Pendarovski.

Russian propaganda at equal level footing with local problems

Photo: Maksim Samorukov, Print-screen video

Maksim Samorukov, a collaborator of the Carnegie Foundation, says that one of the strengths of Russian propaganda is that it is intertwined tightly with local problems, hence people concerned about their problems at home, spread Russian propaganda even without knowing it.

In addition to the fight against Russian propaganda, equally important is to resolve local problems that enable this propaganda which Russia uses as leverage. Sometimes people are seriously concerned about local issues and demand solutions. Russia is concentrated on undermining Western interests more than promoting its agenda. It is quite easy for Russia to make use of problems ongoing in the West, to destroy something or to incite tensions. However, this is usually based on some real local problem that needs addressing and resolving even without Russian propaganda, says Samorukov.

According to him, the historical context that produces results in favor of Russian propaganda through the entrance of disinformation in North Macedonia from Serbia is complex.

I wouldn’t say that Serbia is a bad country because that is where Russian propaganda is coming from. The process is quite complex. It stems from more factors such as the bombing of NATO, the situation in Kosovo, how the wars in former Yugoslavia developed in the 90s, the fact that the media in Macedonia can hardly compete with Serbian media in the production of content, but also because the audience has a historical habit of watching Serbian media from Belgrade. This a complex historical context that produces results beneficial for Russian propaganda, says Samorukov.

Analyzing the outlook in Macedonia the expert deems that even if the danger has passed, Russia continues to believe that a united West represents a threat to Russian geopolitical interests.

Photo: Pavle Trajanov ,

The expert on security issues and former Minister of Internal Affairs, Pavle Trajanov, believes that if Russian influence was ongoing on political processes, and should Macedonia move in a different direction, that would surely impact security as well.

“For the time being, however, there is no direct threat to the security and stability of the state. That was present during the adoption of the conclusions of the French Proposal when there were protests with one to two pro-Russian parties that abused the situation” said Trajanov.

He had heard rumors about four political parties funded by Russia but could not confirm that.

“I think that there are at least four active parties on the political scene in the country that are pro-Russian, and I believe we know who they are. Russia mainly covers the Macedonian area with influence through the portals in Serbia and the social networks. In general, I think they do not have a big influence on the political determination of the parties in Macedonia. The influence is marginal, but not negligible. Concerning hybrid threats, when they said that all roads lead to Russia with the bomb threats, that was propaganda with no arguments or evidence. The case proved to be undertaken by young people from Macedonia who abused the social networks” said Trajanov.

Levica, Edinstvena Makedonija, Desna with Moscow vocabulary

The public perceives certain political parties in the country as having a pro-Russian stance. Their posts on social networks also contribute to that because sometimes the vocabulary used is the same as that used by Moscow to present ongoings in Ukraine.

Photo: Dimitar Apasiev,

For example, on the 16th March 2022, the party Levica released an announcement from the meeting with the Russian Ambassador in Macedonia, Sergey Bazdnikin, saying that they talked about the “special military operation in Ukraine”, mentioning “denazification” and assessing the statements made by the Foreign Affairs Minister at the time Bujar Osmani as “Russo-phobic”.

Some of these terms, such as “special military operation in Ukraine” and “denazification” are also used by officials from Russia, including Vladimir Putin himself therefore, that might be the reason why Osmani responded by connecting Levica with Russia.

The President of the party Edinstvena Makedonija, Janko Bacev criticized the Macedonian government for condemning the military invasion in Ukraine in a way to claim that Turkey had a neutral stance towards the war, which is not true. The post was published on the day of the Russian invasion.

In its post against Ukraine, to glorify Russia, the most vocal is the party Desna which openly expressed anti-NATO sentiment, venerating Russian politicians, and insulting the EU and NATO along with the politicians from the government. The President of the party Ljupco Palevski, who is a suspect for murdering teenager Vanja Gjorcevska and pensioner Pance Zezovski, is in temporary custody in Turkey with an ongoing extradition procedure. In one of his shows from the series “Third Politics,” he describes the war in Ukraine with Moscow-like terminology as “special denazification action”.


Milososki: Moscow influences Macedonia through 4 countries in the region

Photo: FB account of Antonio Milososki

The former Foreign Affairs Minister, Antonio Milososki, believes that the primary objective of these hybrid wars or disinformation campaigns is to manipulate or win over the public perception.

“That is a struggle for the perception of who is right in the said war, who is the aggressor, and who is the victim. Or even making public opinion relative in terms of a said perception. Related to the war in Ukraine, it is quite clear that the aggression comes from Russia as the bigger neighbor. But in Macedonia and other countries from the region, information is released to change this perception. At the same time, in this context, certain disinformation related to Israel, Palestine, and the Gaza conflict can be observed. The most recent example is the attempt to change the perception of the events from 11 September in the US, by revisiting an old letter believed to be written by the Al-Qaeda leader at the time, Osama bin Laden, which is now virally spread throughout the world through the Chinese application TikTok, especially in the US” says Milososki for Truthmeter.

When asked whether he had noticed a trend or whether there was a country serving as a stop for spreading disinformation about the war in Ukraine in this country, he specified four such “stops”.

An analysis needs to be performed to make it possible to derive a quantitative conclusion on this topic. From a political viewpoint, some countries have greater diplomatic, trade, and media influence by the Russian Federation in the region, those being: the Republic of Serbia, Republika Srpska, partly, the Republic of Bulgaria – where the sympathies for the Russian Federation date back to their alliance within the Soviet Union and are quite visible, and from the broader region I would mention the Republic of Cyprus. That is the country with a good portion of Russian businessmen, and even media influential tycoons with their own substantial investments. Hence, regionally speaking, these four political entities i.e., countries in the region, are certain incubators for spreading news in favor of the official Kremlin, explains Milososki.

Internet, the second “military front” for winning public perception

“While the truth is putting shoes on, the lie already went halfway around the world”, is an old anecdote describing that lies spread further, deeper, and faster than the truth. That is confirmed on the social networks as well.

A 2020 study by MIT Business School, dedicated to social media, misinformation, and elections, showed that tweets containing lies are more likely to be shared for as many as 70 percent compared to those with true content. Another research from 2021 performed by six authors on understanding engagement in US (mis) information news sources on Facebook, indicated that fake information on Facebook has 6 times more interactions than actual accurate posts.

When it comes to war, however, the goal is to discourage, confuse, and distract the attention of the enemy to win public opinion on the side of the one disinforming. In other words, the war has two fronts: one is on the battlefield and the other one is on the internet, fighting for public opinion.

On 28th February 2022, four days after the unprovoked military invasion of Russia in Ukraine, the Macedonian government recommended cable operators in Macedonia to turn off the channels where the Russian Federation appears as founder, following the decision of EU Member-States to ban Russia Today and Sputnik. Brussels believes that through these channels, the Kremlin is trying to disinform and manipulate.

These two media, however, are still reaching the Macedonian public, only through another motorway – the internet. Smooth access is available from the country to their Serbian language websites (Sputnik, RT-RS and RT).

Last June, James Rubin, Coordinator of the US Department of State’s Global Engagement Center said that the existence of Russia Today and Sputnik in Serbia is used to interfere with North Macedonia.

We discovered that the existence of Russia Today and Sputnik in Serbia is used to interfere with North Macedonia. We agreed to conclude a Memorandum of Understanding with the government of North Macedonia thereby establishing the will of another country to treat the issue with the same urgency as treated by us, stated Rubin in an interview for Voice of America.

Ukrainian laboratories controlled by the US – an example of a powerful piece of disinformation

Russian military invasion in Ukraine brought about already established and injected completely new disinformation and narratives to discredit Ukraine by demonizing the Ukrainian leadership and Ukrainian position as a whole, with the sole purpose of justifying the unprovoked attack of aggression by Russia.

An example, which was heavily promoted by Russian state-owned media, accused the USA of ”sponsoring laboratories for biological weapons in Ukraine”. This is one of the most frequently shared disinformation globally, and the Macedonian media area did not remain immune to it.

Disinformation on “biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine” was shared by social media accounts, where a couple of months prior Q-Anon conspiracy theories were promoted. Q-Anon supporters in North Macedonia continued entangling their disinformation surrounding a new topic – the war in Ukraine.

When it comes to the media, they were the ones in the country to spread the fake narrative about “laboratories for biological weapons”, following statements of US conspiracy theorists such as Robert F. Kennedy Junior. Inevitably, it has to be noted during the Covid pandemic that Kennedy Jr. was a frequent source of Covid-19 and vaccination-related disinformation and used the war in Ukraine to continue promoting untruths. His statements, without evidence and arguments, were circulated by some Macedonian portals.

Organizations such as the World Macedonian Congress also expanded these narratives and helped them become more convincing to the public in this country, filled with Russian vocabulary, unbalanced and shared as generally accepted truths, without even considering the fact that the laboratories have a long history in dealing with public health issues and that they have not moved outside of that jurisdiction. For the disinformation narrative to be successful, the statements given by Russian officials undoubtedly helped them appear on Macedonian proxy portals.

Interestingly, the conservative circles in the US depicted in the character of Tucker Carlson, were voice amplifiers of the disinformation that the biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine were funded by the US. As such disinformation showed up in the US, it also appeared in some of the Macedonian portals. But just before that, they also appeared in some Serbian media. Due to the language proximity, easier and faster penetration can be noted on these portals.

Attack as best means of defense – Russia defending traditional values


From the very beginning – 24.02.2022 – in the attempt to justify the military invasion of Ukraine, and a year after that on 21.03.2023, but even today, Russia, through the address of its President Vladimir Putin, justifies its military response by claiming that it has to liberate Ukraine from Neo-Nazis supported by the West.

This narrative was combined with the claim that the entire collective West was anti-religious and anti-Christian, anti-family – with values destroying the family, while Russia was the guardian i.e. the cradle of Orthodoxy, family values, marriage… Of course, Russia is trying to impose the thesis that it was rescuing Ukraine from such a destructive mainstream.

It is a myth that the West wants to destroy traditional values or that “Russia is fighting a holy war against godless Satanists in Ukraine to protect Christianity and traditional values”. Russian representatives, including Putin, are constantly pushing this narrative:

“During the special military operation, Russia is defending its country, people, and values, hence it will definitely be the victor. There is no doubt, it is implied” stated Russian President Putin for TASS in mid-2023, and that statement – via a detour – arrived to the Macedonian media area.

To promote such values of family, religion, and decency, which are allegedly exclusive to Russia, and absent from the Western world, numerous Facebook accounts of Macedonian users, such as this one, promoted a similar thesis, even in situations that were not related to the war. In other words, in North Macedonia, Facebook accounts were falsely promoting that “our children are forced to dress as the opposite sex” due to “neoliberal values”, while in Russia, children are “decent”.

The story of the family values in North Macedonia arrived also through the statements given by officials and co-fighters of Putin, including Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader who tried to create tensions and ignite the already burning situation in Ukraine, and through religious propaganda and manipulations saying that “those who insulted Muhammad the Prophet are fighting against us in Ukraine”:

“They want to tear our country into pieces, to humiliate and squash us, followed by desecration of our faith and culture, leaving us without an identity and with no family values. I am using the word Satanism on purpose. Over there, in the West, Satanism is openly acting against Russia. Satanist democracy is when they take the children away from the believers and put them in same-sex families” said Kadirov.

On Facebook accounts, statements such as the ones given by Putin, Kadirov, etc., were taken over and glorified as though Russia really was fighting to protect its spiritual values. An example can be seen here. Another post says the following:

Russia is at war with an anti-religious civilization that is fighting against God and destroying the very foundations of spiritual and moral values: God, church, family, sex, and mankind.

The West detected the narrative on “values”


Assessing the five biggest disinformation narratives, the Department of State clarifies this issue, as can be seen in our current country as well:

The decay of Western civilization is one of the oldest disinformation in Russia claiming that the West is collapsing, and such narratives have been documented since the 19th century. This values-based disinformation narrative evokes ill-defined concepts including “tradition”, “family values” and “spirituality”. Russia argues it is the bastion of so-called “traditional values” and gender roles and serves as a moral counterweight to the “decadence” of the United States and Western countries. For example, President Putin has claimed that the West has practically cancelled the concepts of “mother” and “father” and instead has replaced them with “parent 1 and 2”, while Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov wrote that Western students “learn at school that Jesus Christ was bisexual” announced the Department of State about this story.

The think-tank “European Council for Foreign Relations” has a similar interpretation which can be seen from its commentary titled “How Russia has come to loathe the West”:

In 2013, modernization was rejected, both as a word and as a policy. It was replaced by a de facto counter-modernization course that included social conservatism and emphasized Russian “traditional values”. In the past, Putin would occasionally speak of the West as an unfriendly competitor or a force that seeks to do Russia harm. In his public speeches in late 2013, Putin sounded like a preacher: he harshly criticized the “Euroatlantic” countries for their decadence and immorality. He said they had abandoned their roots and their Christian values and equated belief in God with faith in Satan”. He condemned European multiculturalism and dismissed the policy of tolerance as “neutered and barren”. And a wide range of officials and loyalists eagerly took up Putin’s words. One clever propaganda trick was to enhance the image of the evil West by merging the social conservative and the anti-Western posture. In this way, the West and the “Westernisers”, gay people, liberals, contemporary artists, and their fans, those who did not treat the Russian Orthodox Church with due respect, and those that dared to doubt Russia’s unblemished historical record were all presented as one “indivisible evil”, a threat to Russia, its culture, its values, and its very national identity” states the article of the “European Council for Foreign Relations”.

Russia is defending the world from “Ukrainian Neo-Nazism”

Among the most frequently used narratives in North Macedonia to twist the reality about who is the victim and who is the aggressor, the propaganda that “Russia is fighting in Ukraine against the Nazi-aggressor” seems inevitable.

In the First Report on Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference Threats, published by the European External Affairs Service (EEAS), the following narrative is specified as one of the most frequent ones:

Finally, the last narrative is again surrounding the victim – Ukraine, trying to direct the entire blame towards Kyiv and its alleged cooperation with Nazi Germany in the Second World War, and therefore, allegedly, the roots of the current events should be sought in Kyiv, not in Moscow. The narrative that Ukraine is a Nazi and terrorist country contains posts with false claims about Ukraine being a Nazi country supporting such groups. This narrative has been registered in 11 of the incidents in the report.

The report included North Macedonia and created in some circles support for the invasion that, by the way, is treated as a “special military operation” by these persons.

Photo: Marija Zaharova, printscreen from video

In addition, some Macedonian media transmitted statements of Russian officials with omitted context, such as the example of Maria Zakharova, whose statement with the headline:

“Zakharova with a terrifying warning: Ukrainians are ready to burn down the nuclear plant for the sake of their Nazi idols” was circulated here.

This narrative fits the narrative of the so-called “reverse mirror” which presents Russia not as an aggressor that started a war with a sovereign and independent country, but as the “liberator” that had to deal with Nazis.


Zelenskyy presented as a “puppet” and an entertainer

There are many disinformation campaigns aimed at discrediting the head of Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Since the beginning of the military invasion of Russia in Ukraine, a tirade of disinformation was orchestrated about him and his work. Once it was confirmed that the claim about him fleeing from Ukraine and leaving the country to deal with the war on its own was false, propagandists were left to manipulate the personal credibility of President Zelenskyy, especially his career in the acting and entertaining business before going into politics. And with something even more serious – manipulations regarding the economic wealth of Zelenskyy and the lies that there was abuse of the military aid sent by the Western partners to Ukraine for personal gain.

To make this spin more plausible, a whole set of combined techniques were applied. For example, fake documents were published about the mother of Zelenskyy’s wife buying a villa in Egypt, which never happened. Something that was confirmed by the owner of the compound himself.


When it came to light that such a transaction never took place, new disinformation was circulated about Zelenskyy’s wife buying “Cartier” jewelry in New York worth 1 million Dollars, even though she was not there at the time. Video material from alleged “investigative journalists” – that did not exist or shop assistants from Cartier who were fired – were used for these disinformation narratives that also found their way on some of the Macedonian news portals.

Circulating (dis)information regarding the real estate status of Zelenskyy or his family is always put in the context of Western finances that are sent so that Ukraine upholds its right to self-defense from Russian aggression, as explained in this story.

On the State Department’s website, it is transparently shown how many and what kind of donations are provided to Ukraine. Opposed to the allegation aiming to discredit the president, that money is not for Zelenskyy personally.

The term “Nazism” bloomed on Russian sites 2 years ago

The analysis of 8 million articles on Ukraine gathered from more than 8 thousand Russian sites in 2014 indicated that references to “Nazism” were relatively unused for 8 years but went off the roof on the 24th of February 2022 the day Russia performed a military invasion in Ukraine. Ever since this narrative is at the top. Data provided by Semantic Visions, an analytics company, includes the main and larger Russian media as well as thousands of smaller sites and blogs. The analysis shows Russian attempts to find justification for the attack on Ukraine by presenting it as a country full of right-wing extremists.


NATO targeted as an opponent

The narrative that Russia is fighting against NATO and winning is the leitmotif of the entire military invasion. It goes hand in hand with the narrative that the Satanic West is in collision with the Russian cradle of Christianity, religious beliefs, decency, and family values.

West, the Anglo-Saxon league accounts for 800 million population and still is losing the war to Russia, specifies a Facebook post.

Citizens in the West trust that Ukraine is winning Russia, while the rest of the world is witnessing Russia defeating NATO, claims another post from the same author.

NATO is encouraging the war until the last Ukrainian is standing, says a third similar post, but that specific sentence was also uttered by Vladimir Putin.

On the page “Is this how the end smells”, where for a longer period now pro-Russian narratives have been promoted, published a similar post together with video clips that NATO had sent to Ukraine.

This narrative quite definitively originated from the Russian political structures. Russian Foreign Affairs Minister, Sergey Lavrov stated that NATO is at war with Russia because it is sending weapons to Ukraine. That narrative was circulated in the Macedonian media space. He continued by saying that Ukraine was “a dispensable commodity of the West in the war against Russia”.

Such political views were expanded by China’s Permanent Representative in the United Nations, Zhang Jun, who called upon NATO not to incite conflicts in Ukraine. Zhang Jun’s statement was transmitted with an attribution to Serbian media.

These war-related narratives of Russia against NATO were amplified with the request of Ukraine to become a NATO Member-State as can be seen from the example below:

Ukraine will never become a NATO member state. The West realized that it could not win a war against Russia. NATO lost this war, but Zelenskyy and Ukraine lost the most. Because of him, many Ukrainians were killed and even more displaced. He will be remembered as the puppet of the EU and the US, specifies one of these posts.

What is evident is that they overlap with the statements of some top Russian officials with vast political capital. The same narrative that Ukraine will never be a NATO member state was promoted and disseminated by Russian experts through domestic portals.


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