BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s intelligence chief, who has fostered closer ties with Russia and is under sanctions by the United States, resigned Friday after less than a year in the post, saying he wanted to avoid possible further embargos against the Balkan nation.
In July, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Aleksandar 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 that 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 became the director of Serbia’s intelligence agency BIA in December 2022. The close associate of populist Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić had previously served as both the army and police chief.
Vulin is known for advocating close ties with Russia instead of the West, and promoting the concept of a “Serbian World” — a carbon copy of the “Russian World” advocated by President Vladimir Putin — that would be made up of all ethnic Serbs living in neighboring states.
Vučić has said the real reason why Vulin has faced U.S. sanctions is his position toward Russia and not corruption allegations.
“The U.S. and the EU are looking for my head as a precondition for not imposing sanctions on Serbia,” Vulin said in a statement. “I will not allow myself to be the cause of blackmail and pressure on Serbia and the Serbian world. That is why I submit my irrevocable resignation.”
“My resignation will not change the policy of the USA and the EU towards Serbia, but it will slow down new demands and blackmail,” Vulin said, adding that he won’t stop believing in “the inevitability of the unification of Serbs and the creation of a Serbian world.”
In August 2022, Vulin visited Moscow in a rare visit by a European government official to the Russian capital during the war in Ukraine. The trip underscored Belgrade’s refusal to join Western sanctions against Russia over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Vulin told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the time that “Serbia is the only state in Europe that didn’t introduce sanctions and was not part of the anti-Russian hysteria.”
Serbia is a candidate for European Union membership, but the country’s strained relationship with its former province of Kosovo has stymied its application and the nation has been drifting away for years from the path to the EU and is moving instead toward traditional ally Russia.
Vulin’s ouster has been among the demands of monthslong street protests by the anti-Vučić opposition in Serbia that erupted in the wake of two mass shootings in early May that killed 17 people, including children.