Opinion & Analysis

Russian influence in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro

Little substance, considerable impact

This Clingendael report explores the role of the Russian Federation in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It examines Russia’s objectives in its relations with the three countries, as well the various sources of influence the Kremlin holds in each of the three countries. The report places this analysis within the changed geopolitical circumstances resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s main objectives for the Western Balkans are threefold. First, the Kremlin seeks to project great power status globally. Second, it seeks to obstruct the Euro-Atlantic integration of the region by advocating against NATO and EU integration and by raising instabilities. Third, the Kremlin uses the Balkans, especially the Kosovo issue, as an argument for its foreign policy agenda elsewhere, particularly when it comes to defending its perceived dominance over its near abroad.

Instead of building a sustainable, all-encompassing, and meaningful relation with Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and Montenegro, Russia instead pursues an opportunistic approach depending on fragmented entry points for influence in each country. The Kremlin displays moderate ambitions for building positive relationships with the three countries, which is reflected also in the instruments it uses to influence the region. It nurtures contacts with, and influence through, a wide range of individual politicians, the Orthodox Church, the media and malign proxy groups, making use of energy links as well as local tensions and historical memories. Moscow pursues this approach deliberately, and it has proven relatively successful.


About the authors

Wouter Zweers is a research fellow at Clingendael’s EU & Global Affairs Unit.

Niels Drost is a junior research fellow at the EU & Global Affairs Unit and the Russia & Eastern Europe Centre (CREEC) of the Clingendael Institute.

Baptiste Henry is a research assistant at the EU & Global Affairs Unit of the Clingendael Institute.

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