TOP 5 Events of Detrimental Foreign Influence in North Macedonia in 2022

Фото:, извадок од насловната страница: “Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence”: New Forum Report, 2017 г.

Kremlin propaganda machinery dominates in spreading disinformation, but a Chinese propaganda is surfacing

Kremlin propaganda machinery dominates in spreading disinformation, but a Chinese propaganda is surfacing


Author: Goran Lefkov


Russia is in war with Ukraine, but the Russian propaganda is in war with the whole World. That war had different goals in 2022. The primary goal was to spread the “Russian truth about the special operation”.

Quite frequently, North Macedonia became the goal of the hybrid war led by the Russian propaganda.
This happened when regional circumstances opened a window of opportunity for Kremlin to impose itself
and influence a given event, above, all by inflicting damage such as creating discord and thereby disturbing the good relations between the countries in the region or by exploiting disputes with activities that incite hostilities, fear, rage etc. The dangers of the hybrid war leading this propaganda are exclusively hazardous for democracy and democratic processes. We already witnessed interference in the Presidential Elections in the USA and the election of Donald Trump, or the Brexit referendum and a number of other election cycles globally. In-country we experienced the involvement of Kremlin at the end of the political crisis in 2017, Kremlin’s interference with the Name Referendum in 2018, Kremlin’s activities and threats when the country was undertaking its last preparations for NATO membership in 2020 and finally the aggravation of the Macedonian-Bulgarian dispute.

Truthmeter selected 5 events of detrimental and non-democratic foreign influence in North Macedonia in 2022. They are not ranked in any order and this list is by no means exhaustive.


Тhe war in Ukraine and the public opinion in North Macedonia about the war

The Russian propaganda machinery was marching with much stronger movements than the Russian Army.
And while the Russian Army was occupying parts of Ukraine, the Kremlin propaganda was spreading throughout the World. With the beginning of the annexation of Ukraine, Russian portals were publishing information that the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy escaped from Ukraine. For that purpose, top Ukrainian leaders were showing a video with the centre of Kyiv.

Another disinformation that surfaced later was used by the Russian propaganda as an attempt to break the spirit of the Ukrainian fighters who, apparently, were massively deserting from the Ukrainian Army.
The Ukrainian portal Stop Fake denied this information, while Truthmeter, by means of an article published the Macedonian portals that reported the news citing unnamed Russian intelligence information.

To justify the aggression of Ukraine, the Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to link Ukraine with Nazism so that all other countries supporting Ukraine could be declared Nazi. North Macedonia was mentioned in such a context although the country has an anti-Nazi history. Truthmeter responded to this attempt.


Statements of the Russian Embassy in North Macedonia

The first official source of disinformation in Macedonian language was the Russian Embassy in Skopje, especially in the beginning of the year when the Russian aggression on Ukraine was initiated. This year, the Russian Ambassador Sergey Bazdnikin was frequently part of the fact-checking services for spreading disinformation. Subsequently, Truthmeter responded several times against spreading disinformation. On 23rd February, Bazdnikin’s claim that Russia had no choice but to attack Ukraine to secure prosperity and tranquility was revealed as an illusion since it was not true.

He used all opportunities to find links between elements in North Macedonia, at the same time criticizing the Euro-Atlantic orientation of the country. Thus, last May Bazdnikin in Kumanovo stated that Russia unconditionally supported Macedonian identity, and one of the pillars of Macedonian identity was the Macedonian Orthodox Church which had hardly any support from the Russian Church in its efforts to achieve autocephaly.


Disinformation playing with the feelings of people

Russian politicians on the Balkans have always played with the feelings of the citizens. They are also strategically positioned to make the most with a minimum investment. In 2018, this was published in the book “Russian Economic Footprint in the Western Balkans” of the Center for the Study of Democracy from Sofia.

This politics of emotions was used in 2022 in the dispute with Bulgaria when Vladimir Putin declared that literacy came from the Macedonian language. At the same time, the Russian Ambassador to Sofia,
Elenora Mitrofanova expressed her gratitude to Bulgaria for literacy. Such a statement came at a time when North Macedonia and Bulgaria were deciding to unblock the EU accession process and boost enlargement, a process that Russia is not fond of at all. We know this from the dispute with Greece when the Russian oligarchs on the Balkans, such as Ivan Sividis, owner of the football club PAOK from Thessalonika and former Member of the Russian DUMA supported movements against the Tsipras-Zaev agreement in both countries in 2018. The Prime-minister at the time Zoran Zaev, gave a statement mentioning that Sividis was funding protests in Skopje, but Sividis later denied that.


Disinformation of Russia inclined Serbian portals

The influence of the pro-Russian tabloids in Serbia in spreading disinformation in North Macedonia is significant, especially with the more adult population. The detrimental influence on this population stems from the fact that the possibilities to check the claims in the Serbian portals such as Sputnik, Informer etc. are quite limited.

This population can only read in Macedonian and Serbian language due to the former common country and very rarely does anyone speak English language. In 2022 they were actively promoting the Russian positions. Thus, when you search the Informer with the word “North Macedonia”, more than 30 articles appear only about the links of the country with Russia.

The Decision of the Macedonian Government to expel 5 Russian diplomats in 2022 was used to promote the Russian side of the story. To incite passion, statements given by Ivan Stoiljkovic, Member of the Macedonian Parliament from the Serbian community was used when he stated that the expulsion of the Russian diplomats from North Macedonia was like expelling Serbs from Macedonia. Stoiljkovic was quite frequently present with his statements and positions on these portals. Together with the two Members of Parliament from Levica they were the only ones in the Macedonian Parliament that voted against the adoption of the Declaration for the Support of Ukraine. Consequently, the topics of the texts that could be identified are that North Macedonia will have problems in the energy sector and with foodstuffs. The same narratives can be found in the Russian media as well, such as Russia Today. Present in the pro-Russian portals in Serbia were also the threats of Russian officials to ban export of gas to North Macedonia and Montenegro following the prohibition of the overflight of the plane of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on his trip to Serbia.


Chinese influence and propaganda

Chinese influence is becoming more obvious in the Balkan countries. By building various infrastructure projects in North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, and by purchasing the ports in Greece and promoting the Silk Road, China is proving to be a powerful source of propaganda in North Macedonia. From 2009 to 2021, China invested approximately 32 billion Euros in the region, mostly in Serbia – 10 billion Euros.

Especially toxic are the investments of the Chinese Exim Bank. The case of Montenegro requesting money from the European Union to pay back the Chinese loan is quite well-known. The problem with Chinese investment is that they do not look at the feasibility side of the credit requester. They conclude 4-eye contracts with corrupt politicians and the citizens will have to pay back these detrimental contracts for decades into the future.

Such is the case with the motorways Miladinovci-Stip and Kicevo-Ohrid. The motorway Miladinovci-Stip has many flaws, the price is double and the damage from this corruptive contract is multiply larger.

This year China’s expansion was mentioned as a hybrid danger to NATO’s security.A more direct channel for influence of Chinese information campaigns is Facebook, specifically the pages of the Chinese Embassy in Skopje and the Confucius Institute. The Institute is on Facebook almost from the very beginning of its establishment in 2013, although initially the number of posts then was quite limited compared to the number of posts today.

The Chinese propaganda started to spread through the Chinese University in Budapest.
The “Weekly Briefing” contains very similar positions and approaches as the Russian propaganda.
Although new, this propaganda started off quite aggressively.

Chinese propaganda is known for accomplishing its influence through intellectuals, especially those who previously studied or who are currently studying in China. In North Macedonia, such is the following case.

The propaganda drivers have access to such individuals who, on the other hand, are reluctant
to show any opposition to the Chinese authorities which could hamper their access to Chinese educational or other kinds of institutions they cooperate with or complicate their travel to China thereby having a negative impact on their career.



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