Sun, 02 Oct 2022

PRISTINA -- Daria Aslamova and her employer, the pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, claim the 52-year-old reporter was hoping to travel to Kosovo to chronicle recent unrest in the region.

Officials in Kosovo weren't convinced and detained Aslamova on the border. She was later released and, as of August 6, Aslamova was believed to be in the Serbian town of Raska, not far from an official border crossing point between Serbia and Kosovo.

Kosovar Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla said on August 6 that Aslamova was suspected of being a spy and that security authorities were searching 'for her intentions.'

'Many countries have proven that she was engaged in espionage for Russian military intelligence and that she pretended to be a journalist,' Svecla said in press statement, without specifying which countries. A day later, Svecla said in a Facebook post that Aslamova had been declared an 'undesirable person in the Republic of Kosovo,' which translates into a five-year ban on entering the country.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Balkan Service, Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti said that Aslamova's intentions 'were not good.' He added that it was 'not strange that she comes from Serbia, since Russia wants to use Serbia as a platform to destabilize the Balkans and in particular [to] attack Kosovo.'

Aslamova and Komsomolskaya Pravda did not address Kosovo's accusations against her, which come amid tensions on the border with Serbia, including a Kosovar police unit coming under fire on August 6.

Aslamova has gotten herself into trouble before, getting banned from Moldova, after she was reportedly going to interview former Moldovan President Igor Dodon.

Who Is Daria Aslamova?

According to the Russian tabloid, Aslamova was in Serbia and Kosovo to prepare 'a special report about the recent tensions' between the two countries. In a Facebook post, dated August 5, she is pictured with a member of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Bishop Stefan.

'With such a blessing, going into battle is not scary,' she wrote in an accompanying caption.

Aslamova has a history of being in hot spots where Russian forces have been involved in conflicts, including Chechnya, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as Tajikistan, and the former Yugoslavia. On many occasions, she's faced arrest, much of it detailed in her book, Diary Of A Notorious Girl.

Komsomolskaya Pravda regularly spreads Kremlin propaganda and has already been spotted being circulated in areas of Ukraine now under occupation by invading Russian military forces.

The paper also made headlines in March for printing -- and then quickly deleting -- a Russian death toll in Ukraine, something the Kremlin rarely if ever discusses.

During her career, Aslamova has also chalked up interviews with senior officials, many of the less-than-savory type, including former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Svecla published on her Facebook page some photos of the journalist with Assad along with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Aslamova was also hoping in 2017 to interview the then-president of Moldova, Igor Dodon, a staunch pro-Kremlin and Putin ally. However, Moldova's security services denied her entry, saying she was unable to 'justify the reason for the visit.' Dodon later decried the decision.

After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Facebook postings indicate Aslamova has been inside the country, including in the region of Mariupol, the once vibrant industrial seaport that for many has become a symbol of the indiscriminate devastation caused by Russian bombing and dogged Ukrainian resistance.

In Ukraine, Aslamova also reportedly worked for the Russian propaganda channel Tsargrad.

Judging by her social media remarks, Aslamova was ecstatic with Russian President Vladimir Putin's February 21 TV address. Putin's rambling speech was filled with historical grievances, conspiracy theories, and outright fabrications, and ended any doubt that the Russian leader would launch an assault on Ukraine.

'I cried like a child for joy! Eight long years...and here we are! Victory,' she said in a February 22 social media post.

Her latest detention comes with tensions between western Balkan neighbors Kosovo and Serbia ratcheting up last week after Kosovo said it would oblige Serbs living in the north of the country and using Serbian car license plates to apply for plates issued by Pristina institutions. Ethnic Serbian protesters blocked border crossings in the region in protest at the requirements.

The obligation has now been postponed. Ethnic Serbs make up around 5 percent of Kosovo's population, which is 90 percent ethnic Albanian.

In another incident, police said on August 6 that one of its patrols close to the Serbian border came under fire in an area of the country marred by ethnic disputes and smuggling activities.

Was Daria Aslamova heading to Kosovo to report -- or to spy for the Kremlin?

'Her attempt to enter our country, coinciding with the developments in the north of the country, clearly proves Russia has joined Serbia's propaganda with the aim to destabilize our country,' Interior Minister Svecla said.

Kosovo has joined EU and U.S. condemnations against Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has already introduced sanctions on Moscow.

Despite not recognizing Kosovo's independence, Moscow does have a liaison office and diplomats stationed there. The office in Pristina was established in 2005, three years before Kosovo declared independence from Serbia.

In October 2021, Pristina ordered two Russians at the office out after accusing them of unspecified 'destabilizing' activities. In December 2021, another Russian diplomat who was a member of the UN mission in Kosovo was expelled for 'harmful activity.'

While most of Europe has imposed sanctions on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, Belgrade has rejected such moves to punish its traditional ally. Serbia depends on Russia almost entirely for its energy supplies, and President Aleksandar Vucic has said that imposing sanctions against Moscow would be disastrous for Serbia.

Vucic has attempted to walk a fine line between his hopes of moving Serbia into the European Union while remaining on solid footing with the Kremlin.

Serbia, an official EU candidate, has shrugged off warnings from Brussels that it could 'pay a price' for its refusal to impose sanctions on Russia.

Written by correspondent Tony Wesolowsky based on reporting by RFE/RL Balkan Service correspondent Krenare Cubolli

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Washington DC 20036

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