Andrej Rodionov, Russian propagandist, promoter of the Crimea Annexation and Slavic Unification under Russian supremacy, visiting North Macedonia
There has been a pattern of Russian influence through proxy outlets and institutions, prior or during the key moments for country’s Euro-Atlantic integration since 2017. This then sets sup Russia’s disinformation and propaganda narratives for each of the crises that followed. Currently, North Macedonia is struggling to start the accession negotiations with EU, due to the threat for imposing veto by neighborly Bulgaria. The Euro-Atlantic path of the country, especially its NATO accession it was burdened by Russian interference. .
Russian Crimea Annexation fighter, founder and President of the Russian association “Russian – Slavic Unification and Revival (RUSOV), Andrey Rodionov, is visiting North Macedonia, promoting harmful and divisive anti-Government and pro-Russian narratives. Rodionov’s network in MKD is diverse, consisted of far-right pro-Russian political parties, associations and nationalists promoting the “Bojkotiram” movement, including helpers of the creation of the Cossack Army, with whom he has met at the Russian Consulate in Bitola in 2018.
Visit to North Macedonia
Since 2017, there is a pattern of visits of Russian ideologists and activists in North Macedonia, prior or during the crucial periods in the country’s Euro-Atlantic Integration. The first publicly available data about Rodionov’s presence in the country dates from March 2017. One month later the pro-Russian supporters and nationalists stormed into the Parliament of North Macedonia.
Throughout 2018, he was expressing the support for the idea of Macedonian and Russian Union against EU and NATO. He was in the country in June 2018, the same month the Prespa Agreement was signed. He was also in North Macedonia during the Referendum held in September 2018. On 12th of October 2018 he posted “Macedonian brothers, we did a good job recently in Macedonia for the benefit of Russian-Slavic unity”.
Rodionov is not the only Russian ideologist present in the country working against the national interest of North Macedonia. During March 2018, when the final round of negotiations between North Macedonia and Greece started, resulting with the Prespa Agreement, Alexandar Dugin and Leonid Savin visited the country. Because their visit was heavily promoted via several interviews, both have set the narratives later used by the Russian officials and Bojkotiram movement to undermine the Prespa Agreement and country’s NATO accession.
As stated within GEC report, published in August 2020,”Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem is consisted of five main pillars: official government communications, state-funded global messaging, cultivation of proxy sources, weaponization of social media, and cyber-enabled disinformation.” This kind of proxy outlets and institutions proliferate Russia’s disinformation and propaganda narratives.
As exposed by BIRN recently, there are on-going efforts to expand the Russian influence in the region through the opening of a “Balkan Cossack Army” with branches across the Balkans that promote “Martial Arts”. In this regard, one of Rodionov’s activities is organizing and participating at boot camps to teach martial arts and “spiritual traditions of Ancient Rus”. He had organized a boot camp in MKD in 2018, on Mountain Vodno (Skopje), while he posted the photos from the event on 30th of September 2018, the day when the Referendum was held.
During the boot camps participants learn how to fight. They learn martial arts, how to handle firearms, practice shooting and more. Martial arts and firearms are one part of the story, while the second part is the promotion of the “spiritual traditions of Ancient Rus”. Thus, the boot camps are “equipped” with totems (shown in the pictures), and participants worship them. In the period prior to the referendum, as well as during the campaign, the citizens of North Macedonia were barraged with an intense and systematically organized campaign of disinformation and Russian propaganda, while the “Bojkotiram” Movement has implemented a dozens of protests for calling the ethnic Macedonians to boycott the referendum.
On 10th of October 2018, he met with the Macedonian who was helping to “organize local Cossacks on the model of Great Donbas Army”.
The picture from this meeting, found by F2N2 team on social media, was taken at the Russian Consulate in Bitola in 2018.
Publicly, Rodionov and its movement have strong ties with “Macedonia and Russia (МиР)” Association and the far-right political party “Rodina (Motherland)”, both of them strong opponents of country’s Euro-Atlantic integrations.
Who is Andrey Rodionov and why his activities and narratives are divisive for the Balkans?
On November 6th, on social media Andrey Rodionov revealed that he arrived in the country, after he spent a month in Serbia. In the post he claims that the border police have “detained” him, searching his belongings, because of “Russian influence in Macedonia”, and at the same time appealed social media users to share his post with others. The post was shared 142 times, which is a high number for country’s online sphere. No other details are publicly disclosed about his current activities in North Macedonia.
Since 5th of October, he has been staying in Serbia (arriving from Belarus), meeting with Serbs joining his movement, promoting Russia military assistance to Serbia, and celebrating the creation of the Representative Office of the Ministry of Defense of Russia. Rodionov narratives are harmful and divisive for the Balkan countries as he claims that: “Thessaloniki is Macedonian and Greeks should not be angry as Russia will return its territories from Turkey to Greece”; “Kosovo is Serbian” and that “all difficult-to-solve national issues among the Balkan countries, can be solved if Slavs join the Union of Slavic States together with Great Russia”.
“Russian – Slavic Unification and Revival (RUSOV)” movement is mostly active in Ukraine (fighting on the side of Russian separatists in Crimea, Donetsk and Lugansk), Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria and the rest of the Balkans. The aim of his movement is to promote the interests of “Russian, Slavic people, Great Russia and the entire Russian-Slavic world, uniting all the best from the right and the left ideologies into unified doctrine – Slavic socialism” and “oppose Western materialism, globalism and multiculturalism”.
Beside the fact that his visits are covered by media and other online portals in the Balkans, his latest visit to Belarus during the period from 28th of September to 4th of October 2020, was covered via an interview with Sputnik’s Minsk bureau.
In the past, Rodionov and RUSOV movement maintained close ties with the political party “United Macedonia”, especially with Janko Bachev and Stefan Vlahov Micov who advocated for establishing a paramilitary unit inside their political party. In October 2018, RUSOV movement is expanding its network of associates, by signing a Memorandum for Cooperation with the Macedonian Association “Macedonia and Russia (МиР)”, represented by Zoran Jovancev, who is also one of the founders of political party “Rodina” (Motherland), which was created in the beginning of 2020, and praised and supported by Rodionov. Beside these entities, Rodionov maintains close connection with the “Bojkotiram” movement, which harmed the Referendum for the implementation of the Prespa Agreement in 2018, inciting polarization and division.
Considering the above, and having in mind the current complexity of the Macedonian-Bulgarian relations, it is a matter of concern what kind of narratives will be produced and shared by the Anti-EU and Anti-West proxies associated with Rodionov and his mission, in North Macedonia.