Serbia appoints pro-Russian politician as new spy chief

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By Euronews  with AP
Aleksandar Vulin, right, walks behind Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia. Monday, 23 April 2018.
Aleksandar Vulin, right, walks behind Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia. Monday, 23 April 2018.   -   Copyright  Darko Vojinovic/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved.

Serbia's government on Thursday appointed a pro-Russian politician as the country's new spy chief.

Aleksandar Vulin, who formerly served as the Balkan's state interior minister and held the defence ministry portfolio prior to that, will become the new director of BIA, Serbia’s intelligence agency, the government said in a statement.

Vulin is deemed "Moscow's man" within the Serbian leadership. As interior minister, he visited Moscow in August, a rare visit by a European state official that underlined Belgrade’s decision to distance itself from the West's actions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

He subsequently 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 is formally seeking European Union membership, has for years been drifting away from its EU-aligned trajectory and has been leaning towards traditional Slavic ally Russia, as well as China.

Vulin himself said Serbia should discard its EU membership goal and instead turn to Moscow. He advocates the creation of a "Serbian World" -- mirroring the "Russian World" -- uniting Serbs under one flag led by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. 

He has also frequently pilloried Serbia’s neighbouring states and their leaders, and has been barred from entering Croatia, an EU member state.

Vulin's appointment to such a sensitive intelligence post has subsequently outraged the country's pro-Western opposition and is seen as another snub to the West.

The opposition PSG party released a statement saying that his "appointment will completely stop" BIA’s cooperation with Western security agencies and will contribute to "the additional international isolation of Serbia."

It further highlighted that Vulin "openly advocates pro-(Vladimir) Putin positions" and argued that the appointment renders Serbia "Russia’s only ally in Europe."

Marinika Tepic from the opposition SSP party characterised the appointment as a sign that "that Serbia is heading towards dictatorship" in which "all means will be allowed in the fight against political opponents."

Last year, Vulin is said to have created a "working group" with Nikolai Patrushev, the powerful secretary of the Kremlin’s Security Council, to fight "colour revolutions" -- a series of mass protests which have occasionally led to the overthrowing 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 gave Patrushev wiretaps from a Belgrade meeting held by members of the Russian opposition. 

Some of the attendees were arrested shortly after in Russia. Vulin, nonetheless, has denied handing over the tapes.