Sanctioned pro-Russia Serbian intelligence chief quits ahead of general election

Sanctioned pro-Russia Serbian intelligence chief quits ahead of general election
Aleksandar Vulin said he was resigning to shield Serbia from Western "threats and blackmail".
By bne IntelliNews November 3, 2023

Aleksandar Vulin, the leader of Serbia's Security and Information Agency (BIA), stepped down from his position on November 3. 

The resignation of Vulin, a key pro-Russian figure in Serbia, came several months after the US imposed sanctions on him in July. The sanctions were issued due to Vulin's alleged involvement in corrupt activities that have not only advanced corruption within Serbia's governing institutions but also facilitated Russia's malign activities in the region, a US statement said at the time. 

Vulin also announced he is stepping down just two days after President Aleksandar Vucic announced a snap general election scheduled for December 17.

In his resignation letter, Vulin, who heads the Movement of Socialists, said he was resigning to shield Vucic and Serbia from Western "threats and blackmail" regarding their stance on international sanctions against Russia. 

“President Aleksandar Vucic and Serbia are facing threats and blackmail that can only be compared to the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum from 1914. We are asked to recognize Kosovo, to leave Republika Srpska and to stop being a sovereign country and nation by imposing sanctions on the Russian Federation. If they agreed to do so, the next demand would be the expulsion of Chinese investments, unconditional technological and economic dependence on the West, as well as the continuation of the political and territorial disintegration of Serbia and the acceptance of Western values in which there is no place for the traditional family and nation, and ultimately for social justice,” said a statement from Vulin published on the BIA website. 

“The USA and the EU are looking for my head as a precondition for not imposing sanctions on Serbia. I am not the cause of blackmail and pressure on Serbia and the Serbian world, but I will not allow myself to be the cause of blackmail and pressure on Serbia and the Serbian world. That is why I submit my irrevocable resignation from the post of BIA director,” the outgoing intelligence chief added. 

Vulin, who previously held positions as defence minister and minister of interior, is the first high-ranking Serbian official to face US sanctions since Vucic became president in 2017. Back in July, Vulin pledged to investigate the accusations made by the US. 

His resignation coincides with mounting pressure on Serbia from the West to improve relations with Kosovo, as a condition for progressing towards EU accession. On October 29, leaders from Germany, France, Italy, and key EU officials jointly urged Serbia to take significant steps towards de facto recognition of Kosovo.

Despite Belgrade's condemnations of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Serbia has thus far resisted participating in international sanctions against Moscow.

Vulin was appointed to head the BIA in December 2022 after he was replaced as head of the interior ministry in the October 2022 reshuffle. 

His appointment to the BIA was seen as a pro-Moscow move by the government in Belgrade, which has sought — with increasing difficulty after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — to balance its relations with the EU, the US, Russia and China. 

During his time as a minister, Vulin was known as ‘Moscow’s man’ in the Serbian government. As interior minister he controversially travelled to Moscow in mid-2022 and met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, telling the Russian diplomat that Serbia was the only country in Europe that has not “become part of the anti-Russian hysteria”. 

In August 2023, he proposed that Serbia apply to join the BRICS bloc of major emerging markets countries rather than pursuing EU accession.