Serbian activists have accused Russia’s private military company Wagner of enlisting Serbs to fight in the war in Ukraine in criminal accusations filed against the group.
Aleksandar Vulin, the pro-Russian former Serbian defense minister and current head of the Security and Information Agency, and the Russian ambassador to Serbia, Oleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko, both received complaints.
Chedomir Stojkovich, an attorney and the founder of the online community “Oktobar,” posted copies of the complaint on Twitter.
“Because of Wagner in [Serbia] and a Russian agency, and the encouragement of illegal recruitment in [Serbia], tomorrow I am filing a SERIES OF CRIMINAL COMPLAINTS against members of the Wagner Group, diplomats and individual officials who enable this shameful recruitment,” he wrote on Twitter.
The Serbian State Attorney General will now determine whether to pursue the complaints. Kharchenko does, however, have diplomatic immunity because he is Russia’s ambassador to Serbia.
“Private Military Company” activities in Serbia
In January, the Russian mercenary company Wagner advertised in Serbia for new members to join them in the war in Ukraine.
Yevgeny Prigozhin is known as the leader of the private military company “Wagner”: a Russian terror armed group that carried out military missions in eastern Ukraine, Syria, and Libya, as well as in the Central African Republic.
Yevgeny Prigozhin’s “Wagner” PMC (Private Military Company) is under US, EU, and Japanese sanctions. He is accused of human rights violations and war crimes of various degrees of severity.
Putin’s shadow army
Wagner Group has been accused of being Russian President Vladimir Putin’s shadow army. It has been involved in extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, looting, and even an attempt at the life of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Prigozhin himself and his family members were put on sanctions lists earlier than Wagner because of their active activities on the territory of Russia, the result of which was interference in the US presidential elections and other no less severe charges.
Prigozhin is a native of a Russian high-security colony who built a career thanks to connections with criminal authorities and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
The President of Serbia condemned Wagner
Serbian officials have expressed their outrage after the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti published a video on 17th January to show Serbian mercenaries training and getting ready to fight in Russia’s war against Ukraine in the Ukrainian region Zaporizhzhia.
The alleged instructors are mercenaries working for the Wagner’s PMC Group. It is known that they increased operations in Serbia, where there is solid Russian sentiment, opening a purported “culture center” in late 2022.
It was revealed in January that the organization was using adverts in Serbian to enlist mercenaries for the war in Ukraine.
Aleksandar Vučić, the president of Serbia, responded angrily on national TV, quoted by Reuters:
“Why do you, from Wagner, call anyone from Serbia when you know that it is against our rules?”Aleksandar Vučić
Critics frequently charge Serbia with putting its longstanding alliance with Russia ahead of its desire to join the EU. But recent events in Belgrade demonstrate that things are more complex than they seem.
Mr. Vučić recently stated that since Serbs “suffer because they didn’t apply sanctions against Russia,” it is unfair to ask them through websites to fight against Ukraine.
Despite pressure as an EU candidate, Serbia has so far declined to join Western sanctions against Russia. As a result, MEPs and other European lawmakers made calls to halt Belgrad’s membership process.
Serbian law prohibits its citizens from participating in wars abroad. However, there is a strong pro-Russian sentiment in Serbia, especially among right-wing Serbs, and Serbian mercenaries and volunteers are known to have fought alongside the Russians in the war in Donbas since 2014.
Russo-Serbian friendship ends?
Recent remarks made by the President in response to the Wagner Group tapes once more emphasized Serbia’s “neutral” attitude toward the war.
“For us, Crimea is Ukraine, Donbas is Ukraine, and it will remain such,” he added, and stated that he hadn’t spoken to Vladimir Putin in “many months.”
However, detractors frequently charge Serbia with putting its historic ties to Russia ahead of its desire to join the EU.
Vučić stated in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that Serbia believed it was wrong to breach the nation’s territorial integrity but that sanctions on Russia were not in Serbia’s best interests.
In general, one can see a positive trend in the politics of Serbia, condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, moving away from the anti-Western political discourse, and bringing the perpetrators to justice. It will be seen how the situation with a possible escalation in relations with Kosovo will develop.