Serbia’s new government to include US-sanctioned ex-intelligence chief with close ties to Russia

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s new government will include a former intelligence chief who has fostered close ties with Russia and is sanctioned by the United States, the country’s prime minister-designate said Tuesday.

Aleksandar Vulin will serve as one of several vice-premiers, said Milos Vucevic as he announced the composition of his future Cabinet, which is expected to be voted into office in the coming days in Serbia’s parliament.

Serbia is formally seeking European Union membership but has maintained friendly relations with Russia and refused to join Western sanctions against Moscow over its war in Ukraine.

The inclusion of Vulin into the new government suggests strengthening of ties with Russia despite Serbia’s formally proclaimed pro-EU path.

Opposition Movement of Free Citizens party said that by including Vulin in the new government, “Serbia is no longer nominally on the European path.”

The liberal party said that Vulin’s nomination heralds “international isolation of Serbia, conflicts in the region, ties to Russia and the introduction of bans on all civil liberties in our country.”

In July, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Vulin, accusing him of involvement in illegal arms shipments, drug trafficking and misuse of public office.

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

Vulin resigned as the director of Serbia’s intelligence agency BIA after the sanctions were imposed on him. He had previously served also as both the army and police chief.

Vulin has recently received two medals of honor from Russia, one from the Russian Federal Security Service and the other was awarded to him by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Vucevic, the new prime-minister designate, previously served as Serbia’s defense minister.

The formation of the new government follows a tense parliamentary election in December that saw the ruling populist right-wing party of President Aleksandar Vucic win most seats in the 250-member assembly. The vote fueled political tensions because of reports of widespread irregularities reported by both local and international monitors. An opposition group organized street protests in the wake of the election.

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