Under Investigation Across Europe, Pro-Kremlin Voice Of Europe Has Deep Balkan Ties

Serbian politician Dragan Stanojevic gave an interview to Voice of Europe in January 2024.

Dragan Stanojevic has never hidden his pro-Russian ties, support, or actions.

The right-wing Serbian politician, who has been blacklisted by Kyiv, has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, cheered his full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and jeered Western actions to punish Russia.

Given his views, it was no surprise that Stanojevic was one of many mostly fringe figures across Europe to be featured and interviewed by Voice of Europe, a Russian disinformation operation based in Prague that was recently shut down by Czech authorities, who accused the murky operation of not only spreading fake news but funding politicians aligned with Russian goals.

Prague on March 27 imposed sanctions on Viktor Medvedchuk, a former Ukrainian magnate with strong Kremlin ties, and his close associate, Artem Marchevskiy, over the funding of Voice of Europe. According to Czech officials, Voice of Europe gave a platform with its website and YouTube channel to EU lawmakers, many on the extremes of the political spectrum, in hopes of influencing the outcome of upcoming European Parliament elections in June.

While the details remain vague, Czech officials said that Voice of Europe also had an unspecified number of pro-Kremlin European politicians on its payroll.

Despite the website being blocked and inaccessible, RFE/RL's Balkan Service has learned that Stanojevic gave an interview to Voice of Europe, which was published in January, a month after his right-wing populist party, We -- The Voice From The People, scored surprising results in local and national elections in Serbia.

Stanojevic told RFE/RL in a statement that he could not recall anything specific about the interview. "During that period, many journalists called me, and I know that this team came to Belgrade and that I spoke about the fact that Serbia would be a good hub between Brussels and Moscow," Stanojevic said.

Ukraine Connection

Stanojevic was linked to another Medvedchuk initiative in December 2023, when Schemes, the investigative unit of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, reported that the pro-Russian organization Other Ukraine, founded by the Ukrainian oligarch, had been registered in Serbia and that Stanojevic would head it.

According to Schemes, Stanojevic lived in Ukraine in the late 1990s and early 2000s, where he headed an organization called the Serbian Community of Ukraine and participated in other pro-Russian political parties. He also still owns businesses registered in Ukraine. For his pro-Russian activities, Ukraine placed sanctions on Stanojevic in 2021, barring him from entering the country for three years.

Medvedchuk was one of Ukraine's wealthiest individuals, with a fortune estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, including energy assets in Russia. He was also widely believed to be Putin's right-hand man in Ukraine. Medvedchuk was charged with high treason and placed under house arrest in 2021, only to flee as Russia launched its full-scale invasion. He was subsequently rearrested in April 2022.

SEE ALSO: Zelenskiy Strips Citizenship Of Four Ukrainian Lawmakers, Including Putin Friend Medvedchuk

In September 2022, he was handed over to Russia as part of a prisoner exchange. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stripped Medvedchuk and three other prominent pro-Russian figures of their Ukrainian citizenship.

Asked by Schemes about the goals and aims of the Serbian branch of Other Ukraine or its ties to Medvedchuk, Stanojevic only said he was not trying to assist him but rather Ukrainians. He had "never supported any aggression," Stanojevic said, but did "not support the Ukrainian government."

Russia In The Balkans

Stanojevic was not the only Balkan politician to be given a platform by the now-blocked Voice of Europe. Milorad Dodik, the pro-Russian Bosnian Serb separatist leader who has been put under sanctions by both Brussels and Washington, recently gave an interview to the publication -- picked up by local media -- where he spoke about the "friendship between Russia and Republika Sprska" and accused Sarajevo of "producing terrorists."

Asked by RFE/RL's Balkan Service about the interview at the time it was published in January, Dodik gave a curt response. "Yeah? And? What's the problem?"

The Balkans have long been a prime target for Russian disinformation operations. According to research published by the Clingendael Institute, a think tank and academy on international affairs based in The Hague, one of the Kremlin's goals was to "obstruct the Euro-Atlantic integration of the region by advocating against NATO and EU integration and by raising instabilities."

SEE ALSO: Two Years Into EU Ban, Russia's RT And Sputnik Are Still Accessible Across The EU

Because of their historical ties with Russia, shared Slavic heritage and Orthodox faith, Russian narratives tend to resonate particularly with ethnic Serbs, amplified by politicians, state media, businesspeople, and priests.

What appears to unite the politicians who appeared on Voice of Europe is their "opposition to the main liberal-democratic consensus in Europe," said Anton Shekhovtsov, director of the Vienna-based Center for Democratic Integrity and author of the books Russia And The Western Far Right and Russian Political Warfare.

"Russia believes that the rise of antiestablishment forces will somehow polarize European societies, make them more isolationist," Shekhovtsov explained to RFE/RL.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Shekhovtsov, listed some of the more prominent European politicians who have spoken to Voice of Europe. One of those listed, Cyril Svoboda, a former Czech foreign minister and leader of the Czech Christian and Democratic Union, is now facing calls to step down from the party, in part, due to that interview.

Anti-Western Voice

Voice of Europe may have its roots in the Netherlands, the Dutch daily NRC reported. An entrepreneur linked to the site at the time "worked with" far-right leader Thierry Baudet in 2016 "to bring about the Ukraine referendum," the paper wrote, referring to a nonbinding vote in which Dutch voters opposed a political Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU.

Voice of Europe was registered in Prague in 2016 under the name "Dada-Mapo," and got its current name in 2023, according to Czech records. Its director is listed as Jacek January Jakubczyk, a Polish national about whom little is known from publicly accessible sources. Besides the website and YouTube channel, Voice of Europe was also active on X, Facebook, and Telegram, a popular messaging app in Russia. The Facebook page and YouTube channel went silent on March 27, the same day that Czech authorities imposed sanctions on Medvedchuk and Marchevskiy.

Data analyzed by RFE/RL indicates that between December 2023 and February 2024, Voice of Europe's website registered nearly 420,000 views, with the top five countries including Germany, Poland, and the United States, with Vietnam perhaps surprisingly top.

With Voice of Europe, Medvedchuk and the Kremlin were launching another phase of its ongoing information war targeting Western audiences, Shekhovtsov says.

"Not a single bullet is flying against the EU. There are no bombs. At least not yet," Shekhovtsov said. "But Russia is waging a war by supporting those forces that it believes are working alone against the consensus in Europe."

Written by Tony Wesolowsky based on reporting by Andi Mioc and Mirjana Jevtovic of RFE/RL's Balkan Service and data analysis by Maja Zivanovic