Wed, 22 Jan 2020

Russian President Vladimir Putin is on December 4 hosting his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic in the Black Sea resort of Sochi after intelligence services in Belgrade said last month they uncovered a large-scale intelligence operation between Russian spies and current and former members of the Serbian military.

The Kremlin described the impending meeting in broad terms saying the leaders 'plan to discuss key issues of bilateral cooperation, as well as regional and international topics,' Russian state media reported.

Vucic on November 21 expressed bewilderment when he learned of the spy operation.

'I have one question for our Russian friends,' Vucic said.

Given that Belgrade hasn't imposed sanctions on Russia over Ukraine and never voted against it, Vucic rhetorically asked, "Why? As far as we are concerned, we won't change our policy toward Russia, we see it as a friendly and brotherly country."

One alleged spy is Lieutenant Colonel Georgy Kleban, a former assistant military attache at the Russian Embassy in Belgrade.

Serbian counterintelligence said the suspected Russian agent had 10 contacts with three Serbian sources and delivered money on three occasions.

However, the Serbian president said the revelations wouldn't jeopardize friendship between Moscow and Belgrade.

'We will not change our policy towards Russia, which we see as a brotherly and friendly country...but we will strengthen our own intelligence defenses," Vucic said.

In turn, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on November 22 that the two countries' "partnership" won't be affected.

'We believe that [the visit] is very important, and we fully understand that there are certain parties who would like to mar it beforehand," Peskov said, adding: 'We are confident that such parties will fail to do so.'

Based on reporting by Interfax, TASS, and dpa

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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