The night of August 1 was a night of great tensions in northern Kosovo. Hours-long air raid sirens in the cities in the north; barricades at access roads to Jarinje and Brnjak; a large number of Kosovo special police; and an incredible amount of misinformation in a situation when real information is limited. From the very beginning, the Russian and pro-Russian Telegram channels and Russian YouTube channels joined the active spreading of panic.
Sometime at around half past seven on July 31, when sirens were sounded in Kosovska Mitorivca and in other places in the north populated by Serbs, and barricades also erected, while information was still fresh and scarce militant Russian and pro-Russian Telegram channels actively joined the game, and for hours spewed out a combination of information, half-information and complete misinformation and fabrications.
These channels are all interconnected, says Belgrade Center for Security Policy (BCBP) researcher Predrag Petrovic, adding that this is a form of warmongering.
“These sources of information have not been verified, but they are all networked and looking to show that there is a very large number of different sources of information. Actually there is just one, and in this way they are trying to show their audience that they are very large in number,” says Petrovic.
What did it look like? Whoever did not watch the reports of several televisions’ correspondents reporting from the scene could have thought that, if it had not already started, the war would break out at any moment.
It usually starts with reports on shooting along with a remark that it seems to have begun.
The information that a Serb has been hurt turns into a wounded Serb.
Some Russian channels report on armed clashes.
Both pro-Russian and Russian channels that promote Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both using the phrase “our sources”, report that the Serbian Armed Forces, in full combat readiness, have taken up positions at the administrative border crossing and are waiting for orders. They all share, simultaneously.
Then, in that world, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic asks for an urgent session of the UN Security Council to be convened, information that is never confirmed or attributed to a source.
There are claims of prolonged shooting in the place Banje, and then also in Medvedja, which persist, in spite of the fact that local users write that the situation there is calm.
The channels further write that Albanians are assembling in the south of Mitrovica and that they are, as some Russian channels claim, even armed. All this without proof or confirmation.
Then the information is released that the Serbian Army has scrambled its aircrafts and dispatched them to the administrative border.
And if that is not enough – photos of arms that Serbs from Kosovo have allegedly taken up start circulating. They are especially commonly seen on Russian channels.
The Russian channel “Zlie Orlovi” also claims that Serbian special forces, with tanks, are on their way to Jarinje and that they are assembling in Gazivode.
Also circulating is the report that Albin Kurti had allegedly named the entire operation “Black Storm”, which is also picked up by some traditional media.
And all this goes on until the announcement that the implementation of the decision on vehicle registration and ID cards has been postponed for a month.
Misinformation can have serious consequences
Even though circulation of misinformation and lies is not uncommon and comes from various interested parties and with different goals, this type of incitement is not at all harmless, especially when tensions are high.
“The consequences of such misinformation can be serious, and they can be short-term where tensions escalate into a serious armed conflicts and, ultimately, some mid-term and long-term consequences are attracting the attention of a larger audience and exerting influence on a wider circle of people in future,” Petrovic explained.
The narrative about Kosovo being a step away from war also appeared that evening on popular Russian YouTube channels where the West is always blamed for everything. Also modified on these channels was the aim of setting up the blockades: thus it was no longer a reaction to the decision on the license plates and ID cards – that Serbs in Kosovo do not want, as those who set up the blockades claim, – but the aim was to stop the advancement of the Kosovo police armored vehicles – that is, at least as the Russians claim.