Serbia's new government to have ministers under US sanctions for Russia links

Serbia's new government to have ministers under US sanctions for Russia links
Aleksandar Vulin resigned as the director of Serbia’s intelligence agency, BIA, after the US imposed sanctions on him.
By bne IntelliNews April 30, 2024

The cabinet announced by Serbia’s prime minister-designate, Milos Vucevic, on April 30 includes two candidates who are under US sanctions for connections to Russia. 

Aleksandar Vulin, the former director of Serbia's intelligence agency BIA, will serve as one of several vice-premiers, indicating a potential strengthening of ties with Russia, despite Serbia's often-stated commitment to joining the European Union.

Vulin resigned as the director of Serbia’s intelligence agency, BIA, after the sanctions were imposed on him. He had previously served also as both the army and police chief.

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. 

Joining Vulin in the new government is another pro-Russian politician under US sanctions, Nenad Popovic, who will serve as a minister without portfolio.

According to the US Department of State, Popovic “owns numerous companies and holdings in Serbia and Russia and uses senior connections in the Kremlin to enrich himself, secure business for his holdings and facilitate embezzlement and corrupt tax schemes.”

Serbia, while formally seeking EU membership, has maintained friendly relations with Russia and has refused to join Western sanctions against Moscow over its war in Ukraine, although it has backed UN resolutions condemning the 2022 invasion. 

The new foreign minister, Marko Djuric, currently serving as Serbia’s ambassador to Washington, signals a nod to the country’s relations with the West. 

Under President Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia has followed a multi-vector foreign policy, seeking to maintain friendly relations with the EU, the US, Russia and China, but this has become increasingly difficult since the start of the war in Ukraine. 

New and old faces 

The new cabinet has been nominated more than four months after the December 2023 general election, which sparked a series of protests in Belgrade and criticism from Serbia’s Western partners. The general election delivered yet another victory for the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). 

Vucevic, a former defence minister, was named prime minister by Vucic in March, succeeding Ana Brnabic, who moved to become Parliament Speaker. He is known as a trusted ally of Vucic, also holding the position of president of the SNS since May 2023.

"I believe that this cabinet, which I have just presented, will be worthy of the challenges and tasks that lie ahead of us. Time will of course be the true indicator, but the citizens and the court of the public, as well as you, in front of the media, will judge us," said Vucevic.

The common message is to be united in preserving state and national interests, he added. 

Serbia’s current Finance Minister Sinisa Mali is set to retain his post, while Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, leader of the Serbian Socialist Party (SPS), will head the interior ministry. 

Bratislav Gasic will take over from Vucevic as minister of defence.

Around one third of the cabinet ministers are newcomers, Vucevic announced, according to a SNS statement, while several members of Brnabic’s outgoing cabinet retain their posts. 

There are some controversial new appointments including that of Milica Djurdjevic Stamenkovski, leader of a far-right party not represented in parliament, as minister of demography and family care.

Zlatibor Loncar is set to return as health minister despite allegations of ties to the notorious Zemun Clan.

The Serbian parliament will debate the new government on May 1.