RFE: How Russian, pro-Russia Telegram channels spread misinformation on Kosovo


Russian and pro-Russia channels on Telegram, which previously focused on the war on Ukraine and on justifying the invasion, almost simultaneously became interested in the situation in North Kosovo, Radio Free Europe reported.

The situation in northern Kosovo began normalizing on August 1, with local Serbs removing the barricades they had set up to block the roads to two border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia. The blockades followed after the Kosovo authorities announced the implementation of two Kosovo Government decisions on Serbian license plates and ID cards from August 1. After tensions, the deadline for implementing the decisions was extended by one month, Radio Free Europe reported.

The consistency that points to an organized network was shown on the evening of July 31, when the channels broadcasting in Russian and Serbian published the same information about the alleged first wounding of a Serb at the blockade towards the Jarinje crossing.

The information was also published by Russian rightist and open supporter of the Russian invasion of Ukraine Vladislav Pozdnyakov on his Telegram channel with over 116 thousand followers.

North Mitrovica Health Center director Zlatan Elek told the local media that evening that no injured person had reported to the facility that day, while the Kosovo police reported that shots were heard, that some were aimed at the police, but that no one was injured.

Russian channels also published a picture of the boots and part of the uniform of an unidentified person saying that the Serbian Army is in combat readiness at the border crossing between Serbia and Kosovo.

Reacting to the misinformation, the Serbian Defense Ministry said on its website that “the Serbian Army has not crossed the administrative line and has not entered the territory of Kosovo in any way”.

Half an hour later, the Serbian-language account “Rebellion is a state of mind”, which informs its 61,000 followers about the invasion of Ukraine, published information from its sister channel on unofficial reports about the transfer of Serbian planes to airports and fields near Kosovo. “Serbski Vestnik” (Serbian Herald), and the Russian-language channels “Great Russia” and “Eagles” did the same in Russian.

This information was not officially published or confirmed.

The account “Rosich”, which is part of the Russian paramilitary unit Wagner fighting in the east of Ukraine, also joined the sharing of information about Kosovo and said the Serbian President had announced that the Kosovo Army intends to attack the north of Kosovo at midnight. What President Vucic said that day is that the implementation of the Kosovo Government decisions on the re-registrations of vehicles and ID cards would begin at midnight.

The Telegram channel “Great Russia”, as well as Pozdnjakov, published the same allegations with a difference of a few minutes, Radio Free Europe reported, giving a number of similar examples.

This kind of network for spreading misinformation has been building for some time, director of research at the non-governmental Belgrade Center for Security Policy Predrag Petrovic told Radio Free Europe, adding that this is how various extremist groups that are connected operate.

“The main goal of this is to create the impression that they are large in number and that they are supported by a large number of people,” said Petrovic, adding that this is a way to reach a very wide audience.

He warned that this kind of communication is “quite effective” especially with people looking for an alternative to mainstream politics.

“They offer them that alternative in extreme right-wing positions,” said Petrovic, adding that they try to use these channels to release information that gives the impression of authenticity – that it is from the field, exclusive and first-hand. “It is receptive to the audience and spreads fast through these channels,” he said, Radio Free Europe reported.