Three Russian officials—banned from EU countries in 2022 have resurfaced as “accredited Russian diplomats” in Serbia, despite two having alleged links to Russian intelligence–according to an investigation conducted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), with the outlet claiming that a fourth diplomat in Serbia had actually left Finland just two months after that country had announced a round of expulsions, following the invasion of Ukraine.
The outlet also claimed that the number of Russian diplomats in Serbia has risen from 54 to 62 over the past year.
The news comes at a delicate time for Serbia, with the current government, together with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, walking a tightrope between the EU and Russia. On one hand, Vucic has remained committed to eventual EU accession—even going so far as to agreeing to a US-EU backed agreement to recognize Kosovo as an independent state and continuing with open dialogue to adapt to EU norms.
On the other hand, ever walking said tightrope, Vucic has cast doubt o the same agreement, whose implementation was slated to be negotiated this month, stating that Serbia would neither “surrender nor capitulate” on the subject of Kosovo, and hinting that the overall agreement would meet resistance during implementation in part due to the fact that the Kosovo side, led by Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, has no intention of allowing the promised “Community of Serb Municipalities” in North Kosovo, which has been a sticking point to easing tensions since at least 2014.
Yet pressures are constantly surfacing, with Kurti having made allegation of a Wagner mercenary presence in Kosovo on the side of ethnic Serbs, and Vucic having needed to go vocal about rejecting Wagner recruiting in Serbia for the Ukrainian war only last month. Likewise, pressure has increased with regard to Russian sanctions, with even Vucic admitting that Serbia may need to join EU sanctions against Russia in the future.
Yet Russia will not be cut out without a fight—and the increase in diplomats behind the scenes could be seen as Moscow exerting pressure on a traditional ally in Serbia, which also has a long history of being energy dependent on Russia.
But the increase in diplomats—especially as these include those ousted from EU countries, such as Poland and Croatia—is unlikely to go down well with Brussels. At the same time, it is difficult to doubt such reports, as RFE/RL documented such “reappearances” with facial-recognition software snapshots.
In other words, stay tuned. For when it comes to negotiations on Kosovo, Russian sanctions and EU accession, the new allegations are yet one more guarantee that all of the above will be…
Photo of the Russian embassy in Belgrade by Goldfinger at Serbian Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 3.0 RS <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/rs/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons.