Serbian security services have uncovered a large-scale intelligence operation between Russian spies and current and former members of the Serbian military, President Aleksandar Vucic said on November 21, but added that the scandal won't jeopardize friendship between Moscow and Belgrade.
Vucic spoke following a meeting of the National Security Council called after a video was made public on YouTube showing a man identified as Lieutenant Colonel Georgy Kleban, a former assistant military attache at Russia's embassy in Belgrade, handing money to a man in Belgrade.
Vucic said the man receiving the money was a retired Serbian Army officer, whom the president identified only as Z.K.
Vucic said the meeting took place last December. He did not say who had made the video, but said it hadn’t been made by Serbian agents.
In addition to Kleban, "we have documented other members of Russian security services who had contacts with nine sources in the Serbian military," he said.
In Kleban's case, the president said the suspected Russian agent had 10 contacts with three sources and delivered money on three occasions.
Vucic also claimed that military representatives of some Western countries were spying on Serbia.
The video in question was posted on YouTube on November 17.
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.
On November 20, 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."
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.
Vucic, however, described the incident as isolated and said it won’t harm relations with Russia.
"We will not change our policy towards Russia, which we see as a brotherly and friendly country ... but we will strengthen our own intelligence defenses," he said.
Before the security meeting, Vucic met with Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Bocan Harchenko.
"I have one question for our Russian friends," Vucic said.
Given that Belgrade hasn't imposed sanctions on Russia over Ukraine and never voted against it, Vucic rhetorically asked, "Why? As far as we are concerned, we won't change our policy toward Russia, we see it as a friendly and brotherly country."
The same day, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the video "a provocation" designed to create "a certain impression" ahead of important top-level official meetings.
Vucic is scheduled to visit Moscow on December 4.