Russia calls Serbia’s spying claims ‘provocation’

Serbia’s president Aleksander Vučić has claimed that his country’s intelligence services have uncovered a foreign intelligence operation involving Serbian military officers and Russian spies, the Serbian press has reported.

Speaking after a meeting of the Serbian National Security Council, Mr Vučić described a secret meeting that took place between Georgy Kleban, a retired officer of the Serbian army, and an unknown man who is believed to be an attache of the Russian Embassy in Belgrade.

The Serbian president’s comments came after a video was uploaded to YouTube, showing the Russian diplomat handing over a bag of money to Mr Kleban in a meeting back in December 2018.

“On several occasions, Serbian security agencies gathered audio and video evidence of contacts between Lieutenant Colonel Kleban and members of the Serbian army,” Mr Vučić added.

“Our services, both civilian and military, are intensely engaged in establishing all the circumstances related to this event,” said Relja Željski, the chief of the Serbian intelligence’s analytical section.

“Relations with Serbia are a partnership of a brotherly character. Nothing can influence that,” Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told the press. Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry, called the incident a “provocation” ahead of an upcoming meeting of the Serbian president and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, set for December 4.

Serbia and Russia have historically close political relations, something which observers regard as a concern for Serbia’s prospective EU membership.

Mr Vučić, who also accused some western countries of spying on his country, said that his country’s policy towards Russia would not be changed. However, he vowed to strengthen Serbia’s intelligence capabilities.