Serbian president says the real reason for US sanctions against Serbian spy chief is his Russia ties

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaks during a press conference after talks with his Montenegran counterpart Jakov Milatovic at the Serbia Palace in Belgrade, Serbia, Monday, July 10, 2023. Milatovic is on a two-day official visit to Serbia. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia's president said Wednesday the real reason why the country's intelligence chief is facing U.S. sanctions is his position toward Russia and not corruption allegations.

The U.S. on Tuesday imposed sanctions on Aleksandar Vulin, accusing him of involvement in illegal arms shipments, drug trafficking and misuse of public office.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said Vulin used his public authority to help U.S.-sanctioned Serbian arms dealer Slobodan Tesic move illegal arms shipments across Serbia’s borders. Vulin is also accused of involvement in a drug trafficking ring, the Treasury said.

“Sanctions have not been imposed on Aleksandar Vulin for any crime, corruption or anything,” Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic said. “The sanctions were imposed because of his position toward the Russian Federation.”

Serbia is a candidate for European Union membership, but has maintained friendly relations with Moscow.

Vulin, who is openly pro-Russian, was appointed spy chief for the Balkan state last year.

Vulin previously served as Serbia’s interior minister. In that role, he visited Moscow last August, a rare visit by a European state official that underscored Belgrade’s refusal to join Western sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Vulin then told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that “Serbia is the only state in Europe that didn’t introduce sanctions and was not part of the anti-Russian hysteria."

Vulin's ouster has been among the demands of weekslong street protests in Serbia that erupted in the wake of two mass shootings in early May.

Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesperson, said the U.S. “will continue to hold accountable those who further their political agenda and personal gain at the expense of peace and stability in the Western Balkans and advance Russia’s malign activities in Serbia and the region.”