Serbia as little Russia
The Russian language is spoken everywhere in Belgrade: in shops, markets, cafes, streets – because since the start of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, 104,000 Russians and around 18,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Serbia.
Real estate was also advertised in Russian, and the market immediately responded to the large number of foreigners: rental prices jumped by 100 % and apartments for sale are 50 % more expensive than last year. According to real estate agents, there are fewer and fewer apartments, but demand is increasing, and people are literally coming to agencies with suitcases demanding to move in immediately. Price is not important.
The security challenge
Notwithstanding the fact that they are buying homes, opening businesses and schooling their children, the influx of foreigners in such a short period of time also raises the question of whether they are in any way a threat to the security of the country: for example, whether they might include informers and whether Serbia has a way of monitoring them.
– For months, Russian propagandists in Serbia have been pointing the finger at Israel and promoting Operation Moses, whereby Jews were supposed to come and settle in Serbia, while the opposite happened to the Russians in Serbia – recalls Prof. dr Darko Trifunović from the Faculty of Security for Pobjeda.
He points out that the large influx of Russians in a short period of time is a major security challenge for Serbia, as there is not a day when a certain group of Russian citizens in Europe is not detected and identified with a Russian service. – Recently, a GRU officer was arrested in Norway, a Russian who came with a forged Brazilian passport, and he has also been to NATO summits, – Trifunovic cites the example and recalls that Shishmakov and Popov were in Belgrade unhindered recruiting Sinđelić to kill the President of Montenegro.
– Why weren’t they arrested when they were filmed, Patrushev landed in Belgrade to pick them up in a special plane, when Lieutenant Colonel Kleban was arrested and deported, the President of Serbia said in Parliament that there were five more, but we didn’t see their arrest – Trifunovic recalls.
Underlining that he is not surprised by the large number of Russians in Serbia, as the Russian services in Serbia have been distorting reality for years and have an extensive agency network, i.e. a network of operatives on the ground, Trifunovic points out that Russian interests have been identified with Serbian interests, which is why part of the media in Serbia is reporting that Ukraine has attacked Russia.
– This is a hybrid war that Russia is waging against Serbia, which, along with Montenegro, is the biggest victim, and the prime ministers and individuals who are talking about a hybrid war in Serbia do not know what a hybrid war is.
The Russians arrived in Serbia in three waves: the first wave immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in March, the second in June, the third and most numerous in September after the Russian mobilisation was announced and is still ongoing.
The first wave, immediately after the outbreak of the war, was made up of businessmen, most of them IT specialists, who bought most of the flats; in June and July, whole families started arriving, and from September onwards it was mostly younger people with children.
Radoš Đurović, Director of the Centre for Protection and Assistance to Asylum Seekers, said that people coming from Russia do not apply for asylum in large numbers, as they use the possibility of staying without a visa for three months.
– Many people are getting employed, some of them open their own businesses, so they still manage on their own expenses, but even this is a question of how long this can be possible, so it is necessary to think about their protection, – Đurović said. He also estimated that the figure of 104,000 Russians who declared their stay in Serbia might not be realistic, as some of them have since left for other countries and that only the border police know the real situation.
Russian citizens mostly live in urban areas – Belgrade, Novi Sad, Niš and Kragujevac – where they open companies, mostly in the IT business.
According to available data, since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine until 30 September, Russian citizens have registered 2 091 companies in Serbia, employing around 25 000 people and mainly engaged in IT businesses: computer programming, consultancy services and advertising agencies. It is estimated that around six thousand Russians have obtained work permits, three and a half thousand have obtained residence in Serbia on the basis of family reunification and around two thousand are in the process of obtaining work permits.
In addition to the visa-free regime, Russians are also attracted to Serbia by the Government’s decision from May, according to which employers who employ highly educated workers with a salary of more than 300,000 dinars are exempt from paying part of the tax. According to the interpretation of economists, the Government intends with this decision to attract IT experts and companies from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine to move to Serbia because Serbia lacks experts in this sector./Pobjeda