AP International

US envoy: Balkans ‘poisoned’ by Russian disinformation

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — A U.S. special envoy on countering global disinformation says that countries in the western Balkan region have been “pretty seriously poisoned” by Russia’s influence campaigns.

James P. Rubin, who heads the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, traveled to North Macedonia on a tour that also includes stops in Montenegro and Albania.

“The main source of the threat in this part of the world is Russian-generated disinformation, often repeated and acting as a hub through Serbian media platforms and then repeated and promulgated here in the Western Balkans,” Rubin told a group of reporters late Tuesday in the capital, Skopje.

“I would say that (this region) is pretty seriously poisoned by primarily Russian disinformation.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the appointment of Rubin, a 63-year-old veteran diplomat, last December, worried that disinformation campaigns engineered by Russia had intensified due to the war in Ukraine and Western support for Kyiv.

Russian President Vladimir “Putin thought that he could take over the Ukrainian government and divide Europe. He failed in all of these aspects,” Rubin said.

“But that doesn’t mean Russia isn’t continuing to try to spread the poison of disinformation and division … designed to divide people from each other, divide countries from each other, to divide communities from each other, to bring discord.”

Rubin said he was working in coordination with many European governments and the European Union, and said the West is “just beginning to come to grips” with fighting back against the new threat.

Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

A US federal government body, the GEC says it helps allied governments identify disinformation campaigns targeting their countries, providing assistance with analytics and research, and technology support.

A statement from the U.S. Embassy in North Macedonia said Rubin also discussed efforts by China “and other malign actors who deploy disinformation to undermine democracy and national security around the globe.”

On his final stop in Tirana, Albania, Rubin will join meetings with U.S. ambassadors from across the Western Balkans.

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