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Sooner or later, Russian intelligence was expected to activate in the Balkans its main asset, which is religion. Against the background of the Montenegrin legislative initiative “On freedom of religion and belief and the legal status of religious communities” undermining the position of the Serbian Church, being the first step towards depriving it of absolute monopoly, Moscow’s influence was also hurt.
It’s no secret that the Serbian Church is one of the most devoted to the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), but this is only if we talk in a figurative sence. In reality, it is a directly affiliated branch of the ROC, implementing the relevant social and political work across the region. And it is not surprising that Montenegro started talking about hypothetical autocephaly for its church, albeit not too loudly. However,the law passed by the Montenegrin parliament on December 27, 2019 hints precisely at this. Equally not surprisingly, the Serbian Church, manipulating public opinion, took to the streets thousands of its supporters not only throughout Serbia, but also Montenegro.
A very remarkable point was that at the very height of the protests, the Balkans became a very attractive destination for the GRU operatives.
For example, the confirmed fact was that when ethnic Serbs took to the streets in the Kosovo city of Gracanica, speaking against the law on religious freedom in Montenegro, Russian citizens were noticed among the locals, some of whom were operatives with the Russian military intelligence, the GRU. At the same time, according to local media, Russian intelligence agents arrived in the city on the eve of the protests, using fake IDs and posing as UN officials in Kosovo (the usual cover for Russian intelligence officers operating in the Balkans) and held meetings with the local clergy in the city monastery.
But all this is really just a prelude to what is now being implemented on the Balkan religious bridgehead.
Metropolitan Amfilohije of the Serbian Orthodox Church recently made a number of ambiguous statements.
First, he said the provision of the tomos of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was “fatal to the Patriarchate of Constantinople”.
Second, the metropolitan noted that pro-active opponents of the law are ready for civil war.
We’re observing a classic scenario of regional destabilization by manipulating a religious issue, which, by the way, Russians had also tried to apply in relation to the OCU tomos issue.
It should be recalled that at the tensest moment when a decision was being made in Constantinople to grant autocephaly to the OCU, and for a while after the decision was made, almost the entire Russian propaganda machine, including in Ukraine through its affiliated individuals and media resources, was spinning the narrative about an impending “civil war on religious grounds”.
However, the situation in the Balkans is complicated by the fact that, besides Russia’s complete remote, and sometimes direct control over the political and religious life in Serbia, the region has long been explosive as such. The information agenda in Serbia retains high risks for such an explosion, which, until recently, was mainly projecting onto Kosovo.
In turn, the statements by Metropolitan Amfilohije are nothing else but another trigger for the ongoing catalysis of the social and religious tensions in the region.