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Breaking the Code: Russian and Chinese Disinformation and Illicit Financial Flows in Southeast Europe

Alongside its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia has intensified its hybrid influence operations. Southeast Europe (SEE) in particular remains one of the most vulnerable soft targets for the Kremlin’s ongoing hybrid war. Democratic backsliding, governance deficits, the erosion of civil liberties, and a stalled integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions have kept the region locked in political uncertainty, strategic ambiguity, and susceptibility to foreign malign influence. Media capture and the channelling of illicit financial flows (IFFs) are two of the most critical instruments that the Kremlin employs for state capture in the region. China has increasingly followed suit, co-opting and bankrolling the same infrastructure and networks to exert its own influence in the region and further amplify local authoritarian dynamics.

The following report provides an in-depth assessment of the methods, scope, and goals of media capture tactics and illicit financial operations in eight Balkan states: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia. It reveals the extent to which the web of media interference and dirty money undermines democracy and Euro-Atlantic integration by swaying the domestic political outcomes and foreign policy decisions of countries across Southeast Europe.

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