By Maja Zivanovic
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in Russia on Wednesday – but avoided public mention of the recent spying affair that has rocked relations between the two countries.
“We will go even more often [to meet Russian officials] and will continue to cooperate, no matter what anyone says. We are convinced that it will be to the benefit of both the Russian and Serbian peoples,” Vucic said, defending his close ties to the Kremlin.
He added that while Serbia counted on Russia’s support in international organisations, Russia can count on Serbian support as well.
In response to a media question, Vucic went on to say that he and Putin had “discussed all topics” – but made no direct reference to the scandal involving a Russian diplomat and a former Serbian military officer that erupted when a video appeared on YouTube on November 17.
This showed a Russian diplomat, Georgiy Kleban, meeting a retired Serbian lieutenant-colonel with the initials Z.K. in the Belgrade neighbourhood of Zemun in December 2018. The two men exchanged bags and at the end, Z.K. was filmed counting a wad of cash pulled from an envelope in the bag he received.
Four days later, Vucic said Serbian intelligence agencies had gathered evidence of a Russian espionage operation, and that Kleban had handed money to Serbian army officials on three occasions.
Putin meanwhile told the press conference that while Russia’s position on the breakaway former province of Kosovo – whose independence it rejects – remained unchanged, Moscow would support a compromise solution if it favoured Serbia.
Putin added that “entire complex of Serbia-Russia cooperation was discussed as well as the situation in the Balkans”. He continued: “The President of Serbia and I are in constant close contact.”
He also said Russia had proposed renovating the Serbian air fleet, not only by delivering Russian aircraft but by opening a regional centre for the maintenance and overhaul of Russian aviation equipment at Belgrade airport. Other topics discussed included energy cooperation and the TurkStream natural gas pipeline.