Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the Western Balkans have been, due to their geographic position and history, contested territories that have seen global and regional powers compete for control and influence. Following the fall of communism in 1989 and the successful integration of CEE into the EU and NATO, it seemed almost inevitable that the allure of Russia would diminish as would its footprint.
Russia’s turn to a more confrontational foreign policy approach has seen the country use various methods, including active measures, disinformation and information operations, to increase its leverage in an attempt to roll back the pro-Western transition of the region. By cultivating and amplifying pro-Russian attitudes and narratives, the Kremlin rather is seeking to weaken both the EU and NATO from within, slowing and/or paralysing their decision-making processes and shaping their policies.
To counter these influence strategies, it is necessary to first comprehensively understand how Russia is seeking to depict itself in CEE and the Western Balkans and how successful its attempts have been. Equally important is the need to take note of both commonalities and differences across the region and within different segments of societies.
Main findings of the report:
- There is no single image of Russia and the countries of the region could be divided into three groups:
- Bear huggers
- Bear feeders
- Bear sceptics
- Societies in some countries are more inclined to accept pro-Russian narratives, which, in turn, further reinforce these predispositions.
- The majority of people living in the region do not feel threatened by Russia.
- Twice as many Americans (50%) feel threatened by Russia than people living in its vicinity (25%).
- Russia is seen as a strategic partner by 30% of people across the region.
- The narrative of NATO deliberately provoking Russia by encircling it with military bases is shared by 45% of the region’s population.
- 50% believe that Russia has the most powerful military in the world, whereas only 47% think the same of the US military.
- Russia is still not seen as a real alternative to the West but rather as a victim of Western machinations. Post-communist nostalgia, Slavic brotherhood and/or dissatisfaction with the state of society underline the rejection of the Western liberal democratic order and the preponderance of pro-Russian attitudes.
- There is no universal profile of a pro-Kremlin backer across the region.
To learn more about which countries belong to the bear hugger, bear feeder or bear sceptic group and why, read more in the report below.