Former interior minister Aleksandar Vulin has been appointed to head the Security Information Agency (BIA), news agency Tanjug reported on December 1 quoting a government source, confirming earlier speculation.
Vulin, who was replaced as head of the interior ministry in October, was a staunchly pro-Russian member of the former government, who made a high profile visit to Moscow in August. The appointment, if confirmed, would be a pro-Moscow move by Serbia, which has tried so far to balance its relations with Russia and the West.
Vulin met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, telling the Russian diplomat that Serbia is the only country in Europe that has not “become part of the anti-Russian hysteria”.
Serbia backed UN resolutions condemning the invasion of Ukraine, but has refused to impose sanctions on its old ally Russia. That has increasingly brought Belgrade into conflict with politicians from the EU, which Serbia aspires to join. Most other candidate countries joined the EU sanctions on Russia.
There was speculation that Serbia might take a tougher line on Russia after the April general and presidential elections. However, the new cabinet — finally appointed at the end of October — indicated that President Aleksandar Vucic plans to continue his efforts to position Serbia between Russia and the West.
While Vulin was removed from the government, so was Zorana Mihajlovic, previously the strongest pro-Western voice in the cabinet as head of the mining and energy ministry.
Vulin and Mihajlovic clashed publicly when Mihajlovic criticised Lavrov during Vulin’s visit to Moscow, accusing the Russian foreign minister of “abusing” Serbia’s decision not to impose sanctions by presenting it as support for the war in Ukraine.
Vulin, meanwhile, was known as ‘Moscow’s man’ in the Serbian government. He argued in October that Serbia doesn’t belong in the EU, whose members in any case "don't want" to admit Serbia.
"The question is not whether we want to join the EU, but whether the EU wants Serbia. Judging by the insane blackmail they are exposing us to recognise Kosovo, abolish [Bosnia’s] Republika Srpska and impose sanctions on Russia, they don't want us,” he said in an interview with Vecerni Novosi.
“The sooner we accept that they don't want us and that we don't belong there, the better off we will be. The attitude towards the EU is not a matter of emotions but of rational decisions.”
Vulin is also reported to have created a working group together with Kremlin Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev to combat colour revolutions in the region. Serbian media reported in 2021 that Vulin controversially handed over wiretaps from a meeting of members of the Russian opposition in Serbia to Patrushev, though Vulin denied this.
Now, by taking the helm of the BIA, Vulin effectively swapped jobs with its former BIA director, Bratislav Gasic, who is now interior minister.
Gasic had served as minister of defence until early 2016 when Vucic had to fire him because of his sexist comments to a female journalist. So far it’s unclear where Gasic stands on Serbia’s position between Russia and the West.