BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s government on Thursday named a staunchly pro-Russian politician as the Balkan state’s new spy chief.
Aleksandar Vulin, who served as Serbia’s interior minister in the previous government and held the defense ministry portfolio prior to that is taking over as the director of BIA, Serbia’s intelligence agency, the government said in a statement.
As Serbia’s interior minister, Vulin visited Moscow in August, a rare visit by a European state official that underscored Belgrade’s refusal to join Western sanctions against Russia over its war in Ukraine.
He then told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that “Serbia is the only state in Europe that didn’t introduce sanctions and was not part of the anti-Russian hysteria.”
Serbia, which formally seeks European Union membership, has for years been drifting away from its EU path and toward traditional Slavic ally Russia, as well as China.
Vulin is considered “Moscow’s man” within the Serbian leadership. His appointment to such a sensitive intelligence post is seen as another snub to the West and its calls for Serbia to align its foreign policies with the EU if it really wants to join the bloc.
The appointment outraged Serbia’s pro-Western opposition.
The “appointment will completely stop” BIA’s cooperation with Western security agencies and will contribute to “the additional international isolation of Serbia,” opposition PSG party said in a statement.
It pointed out that Vulin “openly advocates pro-(Vladimir) Putin positions” and assessed that the appointment designates Serbia “as Russia’s only ally in Europe.”
Marinika Tepic of the opposition SSP party said she’s convinced that Vulin’s appointment “shows that Serbia is heading towards dictatorship” in which “all means will be allowed in the fight against political opponents.”
Vulin has said that Serbia should abandon its EU membership goal and instead turn to Moscow, often blasting Serbia’s neighboring states and their leaders and calling them derogatory names. He has been barred from entering EU-member Croatia.
Vulin has been advocating the creation of “the Serbian World” — a copy of the Russian World — that would unite all Serbs in the Balkans under one flag led by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
Last year, Vulin had reportedly created a “working group” with Nikolai Patrushev, the powerful secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council, to fight “color revolutions” — a series of mass protests that sometimes led to the toppling of autocratic regimes mostly in the Middle East and Asia.
Serbian independent media had reported that at their meeting in Moscow late last year, Vulin handed to Patrushev wiretaps from a Belgrade meeting held by members of the Russian opposition. It has been difficult for opposition groups to organize meetings in Russia and chose Belgrade because hey don’t need visas to enter Serbia.
Shortly after the Belgrade meeting, some who attended were arrested in Russia. Vulin has denied that he handed over the tapes to Patrushev.