Aleksandar Vulin, the director of the Security Information Agency (SIA) has been placed on the US Treasury Department’s sanctions list.
On 11 July, it was announced on OFAC’s website that the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had sanctioned a person in Serbia under Executive Order (E.O.) 14033.
The appointment of Aleksandar Vulin underscores the determination of the US to hold accountable those involved in corrupt practices that advance their own political agendas and personal interests to the detriment of peace and stability in the Western Balkans.
These corrupt practices are intended to facilitate Russia’s malign activities in Serbia and the region.
Opposition representatives in Serbia have described the sanctions against Vulin as a scandal for the country and have called for his dismissal, while the ruling Socialist Movement, of which Vulin is President, has called them an “attack on Serbia and its institutions”.
According to OFAC, Aleksandar Vulin is involved in “transnational organised crime, drug trafficking and abuse of public office”.
“By his actions today, Aleksandar Vulin is responsible for his corrupt and destabilising actions, which have also enabled Russia’s malign activities in the region.”
Vulin has maintained mutually beneficial relations with Serbian arms dealer Slobodan Tesic, who is also under US sanctions, and has helped Tesic’s illegal arms shipments move freely across Serbia’s borders.
Vulin’s actions encouraged corruption in state institutions in Serbia, the statement reads.
These acts include the use of his authority for personal gain, including involvement in the drug trade. “He has used his public positions to support Russia, facilitate Russia’s malign activities that undermine the security and stability of the Western Balkans, and provide Russia with a platform for further influence in the region.”
Vulin, they recall, is the director of the BIA and previously served as Minister of Defence and Minister of the Interior, noting that these institutions are not targets of these sanctions.
As a result of the sanctions, “all of Vulin’s assets and holdings in US property are frozen”.
In addition, all entities that are directly or indirectly, individually or jointly, 50% or more owned by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.
Recall that in June, US President Joseph Biden extended for one year the Balkan-related sanctions decree, which was introduced in 2001 and which provides for measures against persons who are a threat to peace and democracy.
Following the formation of the last government of Serbia in October 2022, Aleksandar Vulin moved to the post of Director of the Security Information Agency.
According to the asset list he submitted to the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption last December, as Director of the BIA he has a monthly salary of 260,012 dinars (approximately €2,200). It also states that Vulin owns a 107 square metre apartment and a garage, but does not own a car.
Both Vulin and the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, which was placed on the US sanctions list earlier this year, are accused of “involvement in transnational organised crime”.
Vulin, Belgrade circles unofficially claim, has his own special channel of communication with Russia, unlike the other Aleksandar, Serbian President Vucic.
Vulin is in constant contact with the Kremlin, most recently when he was there in May for an international security conference in Moscow – a move that was condemned by the US embassy in Belgrade.
As US Ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill said in a written statement to Radio Free Europe: “No one should give legitimacy to Russian action by working with the Kremlin as if everything is fine.”
Vulin’s visit to Moscow was also commented on by US Senator Chris Murphy, who was in Belgrade at the time to meet with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
Murphy told a press conference on 25 May that “Russia is looking for friends these days” and that it would be good for Serbian citizens if Serbia respected the sanctions against Russia and stood with the European Union on this issue.
“I don’t think it is constructive for any nation to provide political and moral support to Vladimir Putin’s regime,” Murphy said.
Vulin also visited Moscow in August last year, when he said in a meeting with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev in Moscow that it was “wrong and futile” to try to isolate Russia as the world’s geographically largest country.
Vulin added that Russia’s exclusion from international organisations, especially organisations such as Interpol, would be “harmful and disastrous, and that such an action would only leave room for the further strengthening and development of crime”.
At the time, Vulin also met the head of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, when he boasted that “Serbia is the only country in Europe that has not imposed sanctions on Russia and has not become part of the anti-Russian hysteria”.
In March this year, the European Parliament’s report on Serbia’s progress towards the European Union, drafted by the rapporteur for Serbia, Vladimir Bilčik, received many amendments, and the Members of the European Parliament requested that the part relating to the former Minister of Police and current Director of the BiA, Vulin, be supplemented.
Bilčik stated in the document that the EP was concerned about the appointment of Vulin as BIA Director because of his “pro-Russian and anti-European views”, and MEPs gave concrete examples in their amendments – such as the eavesdropping of the Russian opposition in Belgrade.
A month after the EP report, in Strasbourg, 3000 kilometres away, a court in Moscow sentenced Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison for “treason and other charges related to his criticism of the war in Ukraine”.
Vladimir Kara-Murza, it will be recalled, was also mentioned in Serbia in January 2022, when he expressed surprise that “the question was raised about the holding of the seminar of the Russian opposition in Belgrade last May (2021) and that the Minister of the Interior of Serbia Aleksandar Vulin has only now spoken out about it,”
“It is ridiculous that Vulin has only now responded. It was so long ago. Let me remind you that in early December (2021) it was announced that Vulin flew to Moscow in early May (2021) and handed over the transcript of our talks to the Secretary of the Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev,” Kara-Murza said to Beta news agency.
Kara-Murza explained that the authorities in Russia call out those who speak out against the “authoritarian and corrupt regime of President Vladimir Putin”.
He explained that a seminar for opposition councillor candidates was held in Belgrade in early May (2021).
“We tried to organise a seminar in Moscow in March, but they arrested all 300 of us and made it clear that we could no longer organise such meetings in Moscow. Then we went to Belgrade, and the topics of the seminar for the elections were standard”, he explained.
Kara-Murza stated that Vulin went to Moscow in mid-May and handed Patrushev the transcripts of the seminar, which were recorded by the Serbian State Security Service, and that Patrushev thanked Vulin.
“It is important to look at the timing – we had a seminar at the beginning of May, Vulin flew to Moscow in mid-May, and Andrei Pivovarov, with whom we jointly organised the seminar in Belgrade, was arrested at the end of May. He was arrested in May and is still in custody on charges of collaboration with enemy organisations,” Kara-Murza said.
He said it was “sad to see the current Serbian government willingly acting as an agent of Putin’s special services”.
From a foreign policy point of view, Vulin was unofficially regarded in Serbia as the ‘liaison officer’ between Serbia and Russia. He met on several occasions with various representatives of the Moscow authorities, regardless of the office he held.
Vulin is a former associate of Mirjana Markovic, the wife of Slobodan Milosevic, and is today a coalition partner of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and a close associate of President Vucic.
Vulin was appointed Director of the Kosovo Office in August 2012.
Vulin, former Serbian Minister of the Interior, Minister of Defence, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, is an outspoken public advocate of the idea of a “Serbian world” – the nationalist idea that “all Serbs should live in one country”. “.
In his addresses to the public, he explained that “the task of politicians is to create a Serbian world and unite Serbs wherever they live”.
The President of Serbia has been repeatedly urged by regional officials to distance himself from Vulin’s statements.
On this occasion, in July 2021, Vucic stated that the official state policy “is that Serbia’s borders are inviolable and Belgrade does not deal with foreign borders”.
Vulin is known for caring more about “the war criminal Ratko Mladic than Natasa Kandic, an activist working for transitional justice”.
When Mladic was sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes by The Hague in June 2021, Vulin posted on his party’s website that it was about “revenge”, not “justice”.
As a minister in the Serbian government, he called Kosovo Albanians by the pejorative name “Siptars”, ignoring a court ruling in Serbia that the term was “politically incorrect and offensive”.
He described neighbouring Croatia as a “complex Ustasha state”.
As police minister, he said Serbia would not be a parking lot for migrants.
“We must respect our laws to protect not only our space but also the way of life of our citizens,” he said on 6 October 2022.
Vulin will also be remembered for the “auntie” affair. In September 2017, when explaining how he came up with €200,000 for an apartment, he said, as defence minister, that it was “lent to him by his wife’s aunt from Canada”.
The revelation about the apartment was published by investigative journalists from the KRIK Crime and Corruption Investigation Network.
When asked how he brought the money into the country, he replied “nine times nine thousand”. Anything over €10,000 has to be declared at the border./The Geopost/