Russian newspaper Argumenty and Fakty has started a Serbian edition, staffed by journalists from the nationalist weekly magazine Pecat and published by the same company.
by Filip Rudic, BIRN, Belgrade
Popular Russian newspaper Argumenty i Fakty entered the Serbian media scene in early April with articles that toe the official Kremlin line, criticise the West and deny allegations of Moscow’s involvement in the Sergei Skripal poisoning case.
The paper’s publisher Milorad Vucelic, founder of the nationalist weekly Pecat, could not be reached for comment, but Argumenty i Fakty editor-in-chief Sasa Francisti laid out the editorial policy in a letter to its readers.
“For centuries in Serbia we regretted not having a direct link with Russia. Now we finally have it and through the Argumenty i Fakty Serbia project, we are bridging knowledge and truth about the two countries,” Francisti wrote.
Francisti, who is also the editor of Pecat’s online edition, said that AiF will use arguments and facts to educate Serbians and bring Russia and Serbia closer together.
The monthly paper’s first issue, which came out on April 4, was announced by the Russian ambassador in Belgrade, Alexandar Chepurin, via his official Twitter account.
The newspaper put an interview with Chepurin on its front page, entitled “Everybody’s better off being friends with Russia”, illustrated by a famous photo-montage of Russian President Vladimir Putin riding a bear.
Much of the content consists of opinion pieces, and pro-Kremlin and anti-Western attitudes are the only ones represented.
An opinion piece penned by editor-in-chief Francisti entitled “Poisonous Kiss of the West” praises the friendship between Slavs while accusing the West of hypocrisy.
“Friendship in the West is a category narrowly limited by personal interest, selfishness, ruthlessness, disloyalty, hypocrisy and lies,” Francisti wrote.
A large part of the paper is devoted to dismissing the accusations of Russia’s involvement in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian intelligence official, and his daughter, Yulia, in England.
An interview about alleged Russophobia that also touches on the Skripal case asks: “Why Do Russophobes in Serbia Despise Their Own Nation?”
The paper also offers an article from a pro-Russian minister in the Serbian government, Nenad Popovic, devoted to Putin’s support for Serbia over the issue of Kosovo’s independence.
Argumenty i Fakty is the latest addition to pro-Kremlin media outlets in Serbia and the Balkans, which a recent report found to be the most susceptible in Europe to so-called ‘fake news’.
Argumenty i Fakty was also printed in Montenegro in 2011 at the peak of the Russian business boom in the country. It closed down in 2015, together with a Montenegrin edition of another popular Russian newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda.
Originally founded in 1978, Argumenty i Fakty is now owned by Promsvyazbank, a private bank from Moscow.
On its official Russian website, Argumenty i Fakty boasts of being the “largest and most popular weekly publication in Russia” and says that it “leads the Russian press abroad”.
According to a BBC review, Argumenty i Fakty had a reported circulation of more than 33 million in 1990, but its readership has dropped considerably since then.
The article was republished from Balkan Insight with permission.