Serbia Under Fire Over Launch Of "RT Balkan" Network

Russia’s state-funded broadcaster RT is in retreat in much of the rest of the world, particularly after it was booted from a number of Western countries, including the United States. RT America, for example, had shuttered its Washington D.C. headquarters and laid off all its local staff by early March. 

By that point the RT wing in the US had ceased all live programming following the majority of its cable and satellite coverage being dropped, a process which began in 2018 amid greater US government scrutiny and Congressional efforts to crackdown on "Russian influence".

Screenshot of RT documentary covering pro-Russia demonstrations in Serbia.
Screenshot of RT documentary covering pro-Russia demonstrations in Serbia.

Online platforms where RT International had tens of millions of followers also took action, with the biggest among them YouTube (owned by Google), having shut down RT's popular channel including live news streaming and show archives. It was also suspended in the European Union in the wake of the Ukraine war.

But on Tuesday, the broadcaster announced it is expanding into more friendly territory with the launch of a channel and online portal in Serbia called "RT Balkan".

RT's chief editor, Margarita Simonyan, unveiled the new project in a Telegram statement:

"We have launched RT in the Balkans. Because Kosovo is Serbia." 

"The new multimedia website will cover the most important regional and international events from an alternative point of view," RT said. This new opening will include a television station broadcasting exclusively in Serbian, to be operational by 2024. The website also has a Russian-language version.

Serbia Under Fire Over Launch Of "RT Balkan" Network

"From now on the people in the region will have access to RT in Serbian, which will provide them with a more complete picture of the world today. Becoming an integral part of the Balkans’ media space is a big challenge, yet one that we are ready for," RT Balkan Editor-in-Chief Jelena Milincic said in a state media announcement

Ukraine on Tuesday quickly protested, urging the Serbian government to block RT access and shut down the project, with Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh saying "the aggression against Ukraine is constantly being justified and calls for the genocide of Ukrainians are being made."

"RT has nothing in common with freedom of speech and journalism. The propaganda and disinformation that this channel spreads will not benefit Serbian society. We are calling upon Belgrade not to make this decision" Nikolenko added.

Though ironically Ukraine itself is a long way off from EU membership, the official further remarked that "permitting the RT broadcast is not in line with Serbia’s course to become a member of the EU, which introduced sanctions against this propagandistic Russian media source," according to a regional sources.

The Serbian government has reportedly given its blessing for the RT expansion, as the two countries - both predominantly Orthodox - shore up ties. Russia has remained among the few world powers to reject Kosovo independence, something which for Belgrade has remained a top hot button geopolitical issue. 

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