Russia Hits Back at OCCRP Macedonia Spying Report

Published: 06 June 2017

DOKUMENT 4-2-01Document from Macedonian Counterintelligence (Photo: OCCRP)

By Aubrey Belford

Russia’s government and state media have hit back at a report by OCCRP and partners on Sunday that showed Macedonia’s counterintelligence had been tracking Russian spies in the country who it believed were involved in trying to stop the Balkan country joining NATO.

In a Monday statement, Russia’s foreign ministry said OCCRP’s "widely quoted" article was "nothing but another clumsy attempt to shift responsibility for the deep crisis of the Macedonian state."

The statement did not directly refute the story, which cited a tranche of leaked intelligence documents from Macedonian counterintelligence obtained by OCCRP and partners. The documents show Macedonia’s spies had assessed that Russia had been running a nine-year long intelligence operation in the country. This included efforts to influence and pay off local media and recruit current and former members of the security forces as intelligence assets.

Instead, the ministry attacked OCCRP for receiving funding from the Open Society Foundations of billionaire philanthropist George Soros and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

OCCRP, which receives money from more than a dozen institutional, governmental and private donors, including Soros’s Open Society Foundation and USAID, maintains a completely independent editorial policy.

Also joining the blitz have been Russian state media outlets. The Kremlin-backed news site Sputnik published at least six stories – in English, Serbian and Italian – criticizing OCCRP and its partners for the report.

Strangely, Sputnik mentioned OCCRP’s report in a story quoting Milorad Dodik, the president of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ethnic Serb entity, Republika Sprska, in which he denied discussing seceding from Bosnia with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

OCCRP had not reported on such a conversation.