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Serbian Security Agency Confirms Man In 'Payoff' Video Is Russian Intelligence Officer


The alleged espionage claim is based on a video posted on YouTube and described as "Russian Intelligence Officer Meeting Serbian Spy."
The alleged espionage claim is based on a video posted on YouTube and described as "Russian Intelligence Officer Meeting Serbian Spy."

Serbia says it is investigating reports of an alleged spying incident involving Russia after a video was posted on social media apparently showing a Russian diplomat passing money to a person said to be a senior member of Serbia's security service.

Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on November 20 that the military intelligence agency had been ordered by the president to investigate the video and claims that the man filmed handing out the alleged payment is a Russian military intelligence agent.

The video was posted on YouTube on November 17 by a YouTube account named "Kdjuey Lskduf" and described as "Russian Intelligence Officer Meeting Serbian Spy."

The video purportedly shows the Russian diplomat giving the Serbian agent a plastic bag during a meeting near the Black Sheep Brewpub in Belgrade. Later, the Serbian takes out an envelope with money from what appears to be the same bag from the Art Zone gallery in Belgrade.

The chief of analytics at Serbia's Security Intelligence Agency (BIA), Relja Zeljski, said that it was "undoubtedly established that a Russian intelligence officer is seen in the video."

Zeljski, however, declined to elaborate on the identity of the other person, whose face is blurred in the video. He said that President Aleksandar Vucic would provide "further details about the issue after the National Security Council's session due on" November 21, according to N1, a 24-hour cable news channel affiliated with CNN.

The analyst added that other countries, such as the United States, Britain, France, as well as "regional players" carry out "subversive intelligence operations in Serbia."

Also on November 21, Vucic will reportedly meet Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Bocan Harchenko.

As news of the Serbian investigation into the video emerged on November 20, the country's deputy prime minister, Nebojsa Stefanovic, signed two security agreements in Moscow with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.

One agreement is on cooperation in fighting organized crime and the other regulates cooperation in counterterrorism.

Christo Grozev, a member of the British-based open-source investigation group Bellingcat, identified one of the people shown in the video as Russian deputy military attache Georgy Kleban.

The Serbian Foreign Ministry has said Kleban held the position of assistant defense envoy at the Russian Embassy in Belgrade until June 2019. RFE/RL has asked Russia's Embassy in Belgrade whether it confirms the person on the video is Kleban and what his current status is. The embassy has yet to respond.

Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin said the affair might be linked to Belgrade remaining militarily neutral despite many countries in the Balkan region joining NATO. Vulin told the Tanjug news agency that the "situation is very serious."

Serbia is seeking EU membership but has remained a close ally of Moscow, and has vowed to remain militarily neutral, despite most countries in the Balkans joining NATO.

Belgrade has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

With reporting by AP, N1, and Balkan Insight