Demostat’s interlocutors say that the influence that Russia has in the security sector in Serbia is often present with the full consent of the Serbian authorities, and some state that it is the Minister of the Interior, Aleksandar Vulin, who is the liaison with the Russian security sector.
With a reminder of media reports that Serbia and Russia allegedly formed a working group for a joint fight against color revolutions, Predrag Petrović, director of research at the Belgrade Center for Security Policy, says that the consequences of acting on common goals and interests can be seen.
Assessing that cooperation with Russia is extremely non-transparent, former Serbian ambassador to Belarus Srećko Đukić says that the radicals, and now the progressives, have always been the strongest exponents of Russian interests in Serbia.
The editor-in-chief of the Vreme weekly, Filip Švarm, believes that the alleged working group of Serbia and Russia for the fight against color revolutions is not a “serious story”, because in that case Vulin would not be included in it, and that Russia’s influence on the security sector in Serbia is primarily political .
The Russians are trying to destabilize Serbia through hooligans”, “Both LGBT activists and so-called patriots are paid handsomely by foreign power centers”, some pro-government tabloids announced on their front pages after the Europride march that was held in Belgrade on Sunday.
A rare opportunity to read on the front pages of those newspapers that the Russians are responsible for destabilizing or attempting to destabilize Serbia.
The Kremlin has repeatedly demonstrated that the Balkans are a suitable environment for striking back at the United States and the European Union.
Ethnic, political and social fractures, which are not unknown in the region, together with widespread disillusionment with the slow pace of Euro-Atlantic integration, have been creating fertile ground for Moscow’s interests for years.
Russia’s signature is mostly visible in the security sector, intelligence and military intelligence operations that Russia has conducted throughout the region, as well as through disinformation, propaganda and political interference operations.
Also, far-right nationalist and religious groups are easy prey for Moscow and the promotion of its “traditional” values, which was most vividly seen at the protests against Europride, where some demonstrators displayed Russian flags and the accompanying Z symbol.
It was Europride that was used to demonstrate animosity towards the West and Western values at the protests, and through that to support Russia and the war it is waging in Ukraine.
The government is successfully manipulating Russian influence
Director of research at the Belgrade Center for Security Policy, Predrag Petrović, says that there is information that some extreme right-wing organizations, groups and individuals are financed from Russia, and through the oligarch Konstantin Malofeev.
But it is much more important, emphasizes Petrović, what the authorities in Serbia are doing to prevent this.
“They do nothing, they use it for their own purposes, they allow the directed influence of Russia in order to present themselves to the West as the only possible healthy government,” says Petrović.
It is difficult to assess the exact extent of Russia’s influence on the security sector in Serbia, but this influence is often present with the clear consent of the Serbian authorities, he states. In this way, the current government controls and manages extreme right-wing organizations and groups.
“The regime certainly directly controls a certain number of extreme right-wing organizations and parties, such as Miša Vacić’s Serbian Right, while it tries to manipulate others and allows them more room for action.
This serves them to show the West that Serbia is under the authentic influence and pressure of Russia and that it cannot make some decisions, such as imposing sanctions on Russia or taking a tougher stance, because Russia can easily destabilize the situation,” says Petrović.
Russian influence is present, but the question is how authentic and authentically strong it is, and how much the government directs it in order to achieve the greatest possible room for maneuver in relation to the West. So far, as Petrović estimates, the regime has quite successfully manipulated Russian influence.
Of course, he reminds that a good part of SNS voters are conservative and pro-Russian, but he also adds that the fact is that SNS did nothing to change that and reduce such sentiment, but rather encouraged it.
“Ultimately, it can backfire because they are playing with fire.” “Some of these groups can get out of control, so that the government will no longer be able to direct them in the direction it wants,” says Petrović.
This will not be able to last much longer because the pressure on Serbia to fight against the extreme right will be stronger and stronger.
For many years, Russia has been trying to increase its influence on the security sector of Serbia, which was seen through the defense sector, that is, joint military exercises with the Serbian Army, but also through cooperation with the security services, the Serbian police.
At the end of last year, the media reported that Serbia and Russia formed a working group to fight against color revolutions.
Last year, Vulin met several times with the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, Alexei Patrushev, and at one meeting, as reported by the Ministry of Interior in a statement, it was pointed out that color revolutions are a traditional policy instrument of certain power centers and countries, which aim to undermine statehood and loss of sovereignty under the pretext of democratization, and stated that free countries must resist this.
The working group, although no one has officially confirmed its existence, is probably of an informal nature, believes Petrović, but points out that the consequences of the actions of the two countries on a common goal and interest can be seen.
“We had information that the meeting of the Russian opposition in Belgrade was bugged and that it was forwarded to the Russian side, which is bilateral cooperation between the two services. The Serbian service either finds out on its own that the Russian opposition is organizing a meeting here and records it and sends it, or receives a request from a friendly service from Russia to monitor and record the meeting and forward those recordings to Russia. This is how the cooperation between the security services takes place,” he adds.
The government willingly cooperates with Russia on the security front as well
With the assessment that the regime in Serbia willingly cooperates with Russia also on the security front, the editor-in-chief of the Vreme weekly, Filip Švarm, says that the alleged working group for the fight against color revolutions is not a serious story because, as he says, if it was, Vulin would not have dealt with it.
“If a more serious cooperation had been established, Vučić would have been directly involved in it, Vulin would not have done it.” This is something that Vulin uses for self-propaganda, because, let me remind you, the government in Serbia was relieved when Sergey Lavrov did not come. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikola Selaković, did not go on a return visit, but the Minister of the Interior did. Selaković didn’t want to meet with Lavrov either, Vulin is there for that kind of task,” says Švarm.
However, Švarm says that it is quite possible that the Serbian services followed the Russian opposition.
He believes that Russia’s influence on the security sector in Serbia is primarily political. He does not think that Russia has a large agency in Serbia, nor the ability to maintain it in Serbia, but there is a need for the regime to meet Russia at every opportunity, even when it comes to security.
This, as he states, is probably reflected in the fact that Serbia has established a permanent exchange of data with Russian services. “And I believe that the Serbian side gives much more to the Russians than it receives from them,” he adds.
Speaking about Russia’s influence on the organization of the recent protests on the streets of Belgrade, as well as on the sporadic clashes that took place during the Europride walk, Švarm says that he does not have any reliable information and evidence, but that the fact is that there are good connections between right-wing organizations and Russia.
He is convinced that right-wing organizations are ready to do much more for the Putin regime than what Putin is asking.
“For example, they hold larger gatherings in support of Russia, that they represent Russian positions more, that they attack the West more,” he adds.
According to him, Europride and events related to Europride were used to show animosity towards the West and to support Russia in the war in Ukraine.
Extremely non-transparent cooperation with Russia
The former ambassador of Serbia in Belarus, Srećko Đukić, states that Russia has a great interest in the Western Balkans region and that Russian services are present, especially in Serbia, which also has special relations with Russia, from historical, spiritual to the latest connections established between services on various grounds. including the Russian Humanitarian Center in Nis, as well as the visits of the Minister of Internal Affairs to Moscow and the statements he made on that occasion both in the Russian capital and in Belgrade.
“And all of that is extremely non-transparent and we don’t know exactly what is behind it,” says Đukić.
The presence of the Russian security factor in Serbia is also indicated by the fact that some affairs have remained unfinished, such as the affair with a Russian spy who was caught in Zemun, and whose epilogue is unknown.
He states that all countries, including our neighbors, have changed their attitude towards Russia, so the closest country to Russia in the region, Bulgaria, expelled Russian diplomats from the country on the charge of being foreign spies, while, as he says, they were not expelled from Serbia either. criminals, let alone security guards.
“These few facts alone speak of the presence of the Russian security factor in Serbia and the extent to which Serbia is under their control,” Đukić states.
He states that the radicals have always been the strongest exponent of Russian interests in Serbia, from the moment they were founded.
“Radicals are tied to Russia by an umbilical cord, and they don’t hide that, and the progressives are neo-radicals who used the European matrix to come to power and in power show a full radical face, even when it comes to Russia,” Đukić believes.
Đukić also concluded that Police Minister Aleksandar Vulin would not be able to maintain such ties with Russia if Vučić did not allow him to do so.
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