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US sanctions pro-Russian head of Serbia’s state security agency

BELGRADE – The United States on Tuesday sanctioned Aleksandar Vulin, a pro-Russian head of the Serbian Security and Information Agency (BIA), accusing him of using his position to help Moscow with “malign” activities, and with having links to an arms dealer and a drug trafficking ring.

As a result, the U.S. Treasury Department said all Vulin’s property and interests in property in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

People that engage in transactions with the designated individuals may themselves be exposed to sanctions, the department added.

In a statement, OFAC said Vulin, a close ally of President Aleksandar Vucic, has also been implicated in “illegal narcotics operations, and misuse of public office” and of promoting “malign influence of Russia.”

“He has used his public positions to support Russia, facilitating Russia’s malign activities that degrade the security and stability of the Western Balkans and providing Russia a platform to further its influence in the region,” it said.

Vulin who is also the head of the co-ruling Movement of Socialists is the first Serbian high-ranking official who has been sanctioned by the U.S. since Vucic took presidential office in Serbia in 2017.

The Serbian government and BIA could not be immediately reached for comment. In a statement, Vulin’s party accused the U.S. of “lying, raping and distorting the truth.”

“For the murderers from the White House, it is Vulin’s fault that he supports international law and that he refuses to be dragged into the Western-made conflict in the East (of Europe)… and with this they showed that America is a very small and weak country,” it said.

The BIA and the ministries where Vulin previously served are not the targets of the U.S. sanctions.

In the past, Vulin visited Russia and met chiefs of its intelligence agencies, most recently in May when he attended a security conference there.

In January, a group of Serbian and pro-Ukraine activists filed criminal complaints against Russia’s Wagner paramilitary group and its supporters, including Vulin, accusing them of recruiting Serbs to fight against Ukraine.

In 2022, Belgrade’s daily Nova quoted Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza as saying he and members of the Russian opposition were wiretapped during their meeting in Belgrade and that Vulin handed over transcripts of the talks to Moscow.

The statement also said Vulin has maintained “a mutually beneficial relationship with U.S.-designated Serbian arms dealer Slobodan Tesic,” helping ensure his illegal arms shipments can move across Serbia’s borders and of involvement in a drug trafficking ring.

Although Belgrade has repeatedly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has so far refused to join international sanctions against Moscow.

Serbia is a candidate to join the European Union, but it must first root out corruption, organised crime and align its foreign policies with those of the bloc. — Reuters

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