Vladimir Kara-Murza is paying a huge price for his long-standing fight against Vladimir Putin’s regime. He was poisoned twice and barely survived, his closest friend Boris Nemtsov was killed in the middle of Moscow, and he has been in prison since April, because he stood up against the aggression in Ukraine. Kara-Murza is convinced that the Serbian Minister of Internal Affairs Aleksandar Vulin helped the Kremlin a lot in this hunt for him, by personally delivering the transcripts of wiretapped conversations of Russian opposition members from seminar held in Belgrade, to Nikolai Patrushev, Russian Security Council Secretary. “It’s sad to see the Serbia’s government volunteering to serve as Putin’s special services,” said Kara-Murza, while Vulin threatened him with a lawsuit, which hasn’t happened even after almost a year.
Vulin is back in Moscow these days. Kara-Murza and his party friend Andrei Pivovarov have no reason to worry about that visit now, because they are already in prison. But their fate must serve as a reminder to those still free, as a reminder of who benefits and who suffers when Aleksandar Vulin visits Moscow.
Serbia does not benefit from the fact that its minister of internal affairs visited Russia, while Russia is entering the seventh month of aggression against Ukraine. The damage, on the other hand, is enormous, now perhaps irreparable. Vulin’s visit to Russia had no reason, no goal, and there were no expectations that he could help Serbia’s interests in any matter. He told the head of Russian diplomacy that Serbia is the only European country that has not imposed sanctions on Russia. Every Russian, including Lavrov, has known this since March by reading the newspapers. He thanked Lavrov that Russia consistently respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia. This is what the Russian diplomat has been hearing from every Serbian president, prime minister and minister for 20 years. Vulin also told him that he was sorry that Lavrov could not visit Serbia recently, “due to the will of other countries” – Aleksandar Vučić also said the same thing when the time was right.
And what, really, is the point of Vulin’s visit to Moscow? For Serbia, whose minister he is, it makes no sense at all. He visited the technological company Rosteh, which has been under US and EU sanctions since 2015. What kind of cooperation can the MUP of Serbia have with such a company, how will it transport any of its products to Serbia and how will it pay for those goods?
Vulin’s visit, while Russia has been destroying sovereign Ukraine and committing crimes against its population for full six months, makes sense only to Moscow which is the only one that has a reason to be satisfied because of that visit, even to request and organize it. It is a humiliation for Serbia that it allowed itself to do so. Through its member of the government, Serbia enabled the Kremlin, which is isolated and at war, to show that it is actually not alone and that it still has friends in Europe. This is complicity in war propaganda, which Serbia brought on itself. If Vulin’s visit was only supposed to have an emphasized symbolism, then that symbolism will cause more damage to its economic and political interests than the Serbian reluctance to impose sanctions on Russia.
It is impossible to find justification for a visit and friendly words to an aggressor against whom the entire free world stands. It is unknown which form of justification would be worse for Serbia – if Vulin had left on his own, without consulting the head of state and the government, which would mean that the top of the state has no control over important state affairs. Or if he travelled with the mandate of the President and the Government, then Serbia can no longer convince anyone that it is not a sincere supporter of Russia in its conquest of Ukraine.
This is about doing another favour to Moscow, again without any rational reason or benefit for Serbian state interests. Such gestures, one by one, led to the Russian ambassador in Belgrade, Bochan-Kharchenko, taking it upon himself to speak on behalf of the authorities in Serbia, in the country where he is a guest, and to say that Belgrade “will respond decisively, if violence against Kosovo Serbs occurs“. And instead of immediately receiving a notice of protest, he and his government received silence, as another favour from Belgrade, and immediately after, a visit by a member of the Government to Moscow, as a new favour.
After Vulin’s visit to Moscow, with great personal enthusiasm, it is difficult to put aside the damage to Serbia’s relations with countries on which its future truly depends, and that is certainly not Russia. But even if we ignore that for a moment, what is the point of parading Moscow, which sincerely wants and is doing its best for Serbia to enter into an armed conflict with the Kosovo Albanians? Why the outpourings of love and friendship to a country that only three weeks ago led an unprecedented hybrid operation against Serbia with the aim of first Serbs and Albanians killing each other in the north of Kosovo, and then for the Serbian army to start a war against NATO? How can Serbian minister praise Russia for protecting the interests of Serbia, when it does the exact opposite, and does not hide it anymore?
Aleksandar Vulin’s visit to Russia, at this moment, caused enormous damage to Serbia and its existential interests. It was a gesture of support for a renegade state and its isolated regime and could not be understood differently. Whether it is a personal adventure of an outgoing, pro-Russian minister who may be counting his last days in the Government, or an interstate visit with full capacity, is no longer important. The visit was designed by Moscow, it achieved the planned effect, and Belgrade accepted it, aware or not that it will only harm it. The result is that Serbia is more and more visible on the short list of Moscow’s friends, with North Korea and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan at the very top. Is that the price that Serbia is ready to pay? Why and for whose interests?! Or indeed, as a country, we are entering a phase where North Korea and Afghanistan are the level and measure of our success, development and international status.