Serbian president confirms spying scandal video is real

November 21, 2019

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s president confirmed Thursday that a video posted on social networks shows a Russian agent bribing a retired Serbian officer but said the spying scandal will not jeopardize the Balkan country’s friendship with Russia.

Aleksandar Vucic told reporters after a meeting of Serbia’s top security body that he is convinced that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has not been informed about the activities in Serbia of Lt. Col. Georgiy Kleban, the Russian agent seen in the video apparently giving cash to a Serbian counterpart.

Moscow has cautioned that the video should be carefully examined before any conclusions are drawn. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday called the scandal generated by the video a “cooked-up provocation.”

The video, which was posted on YouTube on Nov. 17, apparently shows the Russian military intelligence agent giving a Serb officer a bag during a meeting in Belgrade. Later, the Serbian takes out an envelope with money from what seems like the same bag.

Vucic said the video was filmed in December 2018. He said the Serbian man is a retired officer whom he identified only by his initials Z.K. The Russian agent Kleban was recorded 10 times in similar situations, Vucic said, including three occasions when he handed out money to Serb operatives.

The Serbian president added there have been numerous other similar cases involving other agents from Russia and other countries.

“We have been faced with extremely offensive intelligence activities by different services,” Vucic said. “There is great pressure against our country.”

Serbia is a rare ally of Moscow in Europe despite formally seeking European Union membership. The Balkan country has refused to impose Western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine and has vowed to stay out of NATO.

Vucic is set to meet Russia’s Putin on Dec. 4.

“I had one question for our Russian friends ... I asked why?” Vucic said. “As far as we are concerned, we won’t change our policy toward Russia, we see it as a friendly and brotherly country.”

He pledged that “Serbia won’t go to NATO.”

Russia has been helping Serbia beef up its army, triggering concerns in the West, which is worried over Moscow’s historic influence in the volatile Balkans that went through a series of wars in the 1990s.

Zakharova suggested in Moscow the video was staged.

“We’re used to the fact that a week before, several days before contacts on the highest level, interesting stories surface and are presented as some kind of sensation,” she said. “Later, as time passes, it all turns out to be a hastily cooked-up provocation.”