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EUCOM Commander: Moscow Targeting Balkans with Misinformation Campaigns

Commander of U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti hosts a command “Town Hall” at Patch Barracks, Germany, February 07, 2018. US Army Photo

The Balkans are “an area we could have problems with in the future” as the Kremlin increases the tempo of its disinformation campaigns in Serbia and nations with large Serb populations, like Kosovo and Bosnia, the nation’s top commander in Europe warned Thursday.

Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti testified, “Russia is at work in the Balkans, and we have kind of taken our eye off the area.”

Moscow’s idea is to “have a spoiling effect” in nations of the former Yugoslavia, destabilizing their governments and undermining the population’s confidence in their leaders.

Russia’s most recent and public intervention in the region came two years ago as Montenegro, a Balkan nation on the Adriatic Sea, was moving toward NATO membership. Moscow, following its seizure of Crimea in 2014, the backing of separatists in Ukraine and deteriorating relations with the European Union and the United States because of that aggression, saw this as a direct security threat.

At the time, Montenegrin officials foiled an attempt by opposition parties and Russian military intelligence to disrupt its 2016 elections, overthrow the existing government and end the quest to join the alliance. Moscow has denied any involvement in the plot. Montenegro became NATO’s 29th member in 2017.

“They’re not out of the woods yet,” he said of Montenegro’s political stability and economic development.

The Balkans in 1995 was the first site of a NATO military intervention. At the time, Bosnia was being torn apart in a three-way bloody ethnic struggle among Croats, Serbs and Bosnians for control. Russia provided troops to the International Force in Bosnia. Moscow shares religious and cultural ties with the Serbs.

Four years later, NATO against responded militarily to the ethnic and humanitarian crisis in Kosovo, then a largely Muslim province of Serbia. Kosovo has since declared its independence.

NATO maintains a headquarters and small force in Bosnia, as well as Kosovo. The U.S. commitment to both comes from the National Guard.

This continued Russian interference with democratic processes — the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, France’s successful defense of its voting, possible success in Germany and Italy and concern about Sweden’s upcoming election and the United States midterms — drew close attention during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

“Typically when you look at their disinformation, their social media, it is generally targeted at the undermining of Western values” from confidence in the governments themselves as they tried in Montenegro and their leaders, he said.

Scaparrotti said the Russian drive is to use multiple platforms and aimed “to sow confusion … so there is distrust in government.”

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis hosts with the Montenegro’s Minister of Defence, Predrag Bošković for a meeting at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Feb. 27, 2018. DoD Photo

He said the United States’ “whole of government approach” is faltering in this regard. “I don’t believe there is an effective unification across the interagency with the energy and the focus that we could attain.”

Scaparrotti’s testimony echoed similar themes the committee heard from Daniel Coats, director of National Intelligence.

Acknowledging a recent RAND Corporation study on conventional forces in Europe that found Russian troops could capture the Baltic capitals in a little more than two days and the United States forces in Eastern Europe were “outranged, outgunned, and outmatched.”

He said command worked with RAND on the study, which began in 2014.

“We have re-postured forces since the RAND study was done. We’ve rewritten plans since then and we would fight this differently than RAND found in that experiment or that exercise they did.” He said the command and NATO are continuing to adapt, citing the lessons both took from recently concluded Russian exercises near the Polish border, involving nuclear and conventional forces and a “whole of society” involvement in the operation.

Even with the increased defense spending by allies and a renewed commitment by the United States through the European Deterrence Initiative for more money for facilities, rotational and positioned ground forces, increased prepositioned heavy armor in the Netherlands and Belgium, continued maritime presence in the Black Sea, Scaparrotti said, “I don’t have all the forces I need in Europe today.”

“I think we should continue to press” NATO allies to reach the two percent threshold of defense spending and 20 percent of that spending go to capabilities. Eight alliance nations meet that goal now, he said. Russian spends about 5.3 percent of its gross domestic product on security and defense needs.

Asked if he had more money where would he spend it, he said he would invest it into more C4ISR [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] systems. That investment could also help the command in mapping out Russia’s infrastructure and connections between its government, businesses and industry.

Scaparrotti also said the alliance’s missile defenses could be built up with great investment in short- and medium-range systems to counter Russian developments in cruise missile technologies.

 

  • Centaurus

    I can’t find the front door. Could someone help me ?

  • Brian Ghilliotti

    None of this matters once Serbia integrates into NATO. Just like US influence in the Middle East is mostly gone, so is Russian influence in the Balkans. Brian Ghilliotti

  • R’ Yitzchak M

    The irony is I know Soviet mafia is a disease in Europe but the method to treat that disease is not in “ blood letting”

  • DaSaint

    Careful General, you could be shown the front door for stating there is a lack of interagency focus.

  • R’ Yitzchak M

    No discerning views allowed anymore? Only the “part line”.. which party? “Establishment one..” make it believe might be quite expensive at the end. No free speech no freedom period. Just a party line..

    But then “every society deserves government it has” by Sir Winston Churchill
    “The COST of freedom is the vigilance of the people TO PROTECT IT” by the Thomas Jefferson
    “The society that is willing to sacrifice its liberty for the (“promise”) of safety DESERVES NEITHER” by the Thomas Jefferson

    By then.. being a German ally certain values have to be “compromised” to achieve the global mastery?

    ..and then again “The every society deserve the government it has..” man who knew that from long life experience.

    In my humble opinion the tyranny creeps on people who are tired of their freedoms and their responsibilities.

    Descending view is not a view of an enemy but it is presentation of the facts that are challenging the hysteria peddling a challenge to the “make it believe reality” that obviously have a single purpose of engaging into the world war on the false pretences. Perhaps controlled propaganda environment based on organized ignorance as well the aggressive and persistent disinformation does help to plunge the nations into war but it is a major impediment to the victory.. ask our German allies? Or it is to late for that.. to recalibrate OUR moral compass or we just gave up and we’re buying only the “German made” ones?

  • MikeS

    The Balkans are “an area we could have problems with in the future” as the Kremlin increases the tempo of its disinformation campaigns in Serbia and nations with large Serb populations, like Kosovo and Bosnia, the nation’s top commander in Europe warned Thursday.

    So it’s a ‘disinformation campaign’ when a sovereign country doesn’t agree to join NATO? Seems that the last war in the Balkans didn’t leave any open issues for the people of the Balkans themselves, but rather NATO wanting to color the map with bases to control the region. I don’t see Russia pushing to open military bases in the Balkans or to join any military alliance. Am I wrong? Is that only evident to me?

    • R’ Yitzchak M

      Editor does not like diversion from MAKE IT BELIVE DOGMA.. I gues a truth is a sacrilege here. CNN mantra of the ensuing “Crusades” of those “pesky” infidels. First the Orthodox Christians, then Anglican Christian’s (Rwanda’s Tutsi over 1 million MURDERED CIVILIANS as Francois Miteran testified at EU tribunal that France was “..protecting its cultural heritage”) by giving SA-7 “Strela” captured by the French Legionaries fighting in Iraq transferred to Djibouti, to Marseille and fro there to Central African Republic to Rwanda into the hands of Hutu .. French trained and the French controlled. In the Middle East is the ongoing genocide against Shia Muslims in Iraq 67% majority are Shi’a, Yemen Suni Saudis are getting away with the genocide again against the Shia. Anti Sirian “volunteers” ISIS boys are exterminating all the Muslim and Christian undesirables.

      So it is by all practical purpose a religious war toward a dream of absolute power and a tyranny of single state and the single religion.. rest of us again are due for the extermination of course with the “extreme prejudice”? So disending voices are to be dealt with as it did just few years ago. USA is created of the refugees of those tyrannical social diseases that were spreading throughout Europe.. smart people made DISTINCTION between IDIOTS and the American people today local idiots are desperate to import that social plague from Europe and to create its helish slaughter house here.

  • Murray

    Is the General talking about “misinformation” or “disinformation”? According to my dictionary Misinformation is a lie while disinformation is deliberately leaked false information. There is a subtle difference.

  • SFC Steven M Barry USA RET

    According to EUCOM, Russia telling the truth is a “disinformation campaign.”

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Them Russians get around, don’t they now?

  • SDW

    This is a situation with a great number of grays and nuances. Nonetheless, sometimes we need to boil it down to the essence.

    Is what Russia is doing a hostile even aggressive act to harm an ally? If it is not then lets just continue to call them out on what they are doing. Let’s use the information we have and help our allies run their own information campaigns according to their laws.

    If Russia’s actions are hostile then let’s return fire in self defense. Let’s not react impulsively or even, at times, publically but let’s carry out asymmetric quid pro quo. Russia’s neo imperialist government depends on the oligarchs and siloviki or, moreover the oligarchs and siloviki are the government and Putin runs it much like Marcos did the Philippines–he gets a cut of all the action and, in return, he arbitrates the inevitable turf conflicts. It’s not about any ideology and hasn’t since at least the 1980s. It’s about power and its analogue, money.

    We don’t need to try for some sort of “regime change” just extract payment for the damage done to democracies that don’t suppress their people’s freedoms of speech and the press. Let’s set up a “channel two” of underground DVDs showing FSB storm troopers arresting peaceful protesters, the yachts and mansions of the chief thieves, and other glimpses of reality that are kept from the Russian people.

    Forget trying to get Mexico to build some wall, let’s let the powers behind the throne in Russia pay for rebuilding Ukraine, the salaries of cyber watchers and guardians, and the other costs of containing the Russian contagion by seizing and freezing assets. The princes and counts of the Second Russian Empire can stay in the Mother Russia of their making–looking over their shoulders for the coming payback.

    No, this won’t happen. All we might see is a sternly worded protest accompanied by a forceful (sounding) “Tsk Tsk!”.