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‘Americans sit in Army HQ, so what?’ Serbia shrugs off ‘RUSSIAN SPY’ video scandal ahead of president’s Moscow visit

‘Americans sit in Army HQ, so what?’ Serbia shrugs off ‘RUSSIAN SPY’ video scandal ahead of president’s Moscow visit
The government in Belgrade said it would not change its policy towards Moscow after a video of a suspected “Russian spy” emerged online. Serbians were quick to point out their country has been riddled by NATO spies for years.

Briefing President Aleksandar Vucic on the video at the center of the latest spy scandal, Serbian counter-intelligence agency BIA on Thursday said the man meeting a retired Serbian Army officer was a “Russian intelligence operative.” Earlier, the press identified the man as Russian Lieutenant Colonel Georgy Kleban, who served at the embassy in Belgrade until June.

“We will not change our policy towards Russia, which we see as a brotherly and friendly country ... but we will strengthen our own intelligence defenses,” Vucic told reporters following a meeting with his national security council.

The video shows Kleban and a man whose face is obstructed meeting at a pub and exchanging bags. The Serbian officer, identified only as Z.K., is later shown in his car, taking out an envelope full of cash from the bag that also appears to contain a bottle of liquor, and counting the money in full view of whoever was keeping him under surveillance. No intelligence service has claimed ownership of the video, and BIA itself denied it was behind the operation.

Vucic said that the meeting shown in the video took place in December 2018, adding that BIA had evidence of at least ten other contacts with three sources.

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“I’m convinced that relations between Russia and Serbia have a character of brotherhood, partnership and alliance that nothing can affect,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. He declined to speculate about the video, saying that the Russian authorities were still “figuring it out.” 

Suspicious Serbians were quick to read something nefarious into the fact that one of the people promoting the video bombshell was Christo Grozev, a Bulgarian journalist for the UK-based blog Bellingcat, which is close to the Atlantic Council and the British government.

Others took note of the affair’s timing. Not only did the video drop two weeks before Vucic is scheduled to visit Russia and meet with President Vladimir Putin, but also amid the ongoing weapons scandal involving collaboration with NATO.

Another Bulgarian journalist, not related to Bellingcat, recently documented instances of weapons and ammunition made at the state-owned ‘Krusik’ factory in Valjevo, which were reportedly sold to the US and other NATO countries, ending up in the hands of both Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists and Ukrainian militias fighting in Donbass.

Meanwhile, BIA Analytics Directorate chief Relja Zeljski told local media that Russia was certainly not the only country engaged in “intelligence and subversive activities” on Serbian territory.

“Other great powers, such as the US, UK and France – as well as regional players such as Croatia and Albania – are intensively working on pursuing their interests,” Zeljski said.

His words were echoed by many pro-nationalist Serbs on social media, even critics of Vucic, who added “Russian Spy” to their handles and pointed out that they would gladly help Moscow for free. Others noted that foreign spies have infiltrated the country ages ago, and that NATO itself set up shop inside the Serbian Army headquarters shortly after the US-backed “color revolution” in 2000.

Until now, Serbia’s most famous spy scandal was the 2002 arrest of Momcilo Perisic – a retired army general then serving as deputy PM – in a roadside motel outside Belgrade, as he was meeting with a US embassy official and suspected spy John David Neighbor. The US invoked diplomatic immunity and protested Neighbor’s “unwarranted detention,” evacuating him from Serbia after he was released from jail.

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