Russian Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev has visited Belgrade amid speculation about Russian intrigues in Montenegro - and following alleged leaks from the Serbian police to a foreign intelligence service.
Meeting the Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic in Belgrade, Patrushev offered a memorandum of understanding with the Serbian Interior Ministry, which should be signed in 2017.
“I propose a revitalization of the work on a memorandum of mutual understanding between the Security Council of Russia and the Serbian Interior Ministry,” Serbian media reports cited Patrushev as saying.
The agreement would establish regular communications between the two countries’ security agencies, though not on a legally binding basis.
Belgrade-based analysist and correspondent from Moscow Slobodan Samardzija said Patrushev’s offer of a memorandum on security collaboration was to be expected.
“Russia has decided to play a bit rougher; the EU is in crisis because of its disunity, and the US is in a vacuum which has led to wheeling and dealing in the Balkans. Everyone is looking to get something for themselves,” he told BIRN.
Who is Patrushev
The head of the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia is one of the most powerful people in Russia.
Before taking up his current position in 2008, for almost 10 years he was director of the Federal Security Service, the successor organisation to the KGB.
In 1999, he succeeded current Russian President Vladimir Putin at the helm of the FSB, and has stayed there during Putin’s two terms as Russian President.
Patrushev rarely speaks to journalists. When he does, he provides “profound insight into the thinking of those that shape Russian foreign and security policies” media reports have said.
He is considered a member of the narrow circle of the Russian leadership, close to Putin.
Samardzija said Patrushev was visiting Serbia at a time when relationships in Balkans, and also between the US and EU on one side and Russia on the other, were all hotting up.
“It is natural that there is rising interest of foreign intelligence services in the Balkans since they usually operate here. This increase is also a good chance for us to see where we stand, on which side and also relative to them,” he said.
“What happened in Montenegro and the allegations that something was planned on Serbian soil against Montenegro’s government clearly led to some escalation. Petrusev came because obviously there is a need to put light on some things,” he said.
Moscow has been accused of involvement in an alleged election day coup attempt in Montenegro, while some in Belgrade claim that Russian intelligence still has a strong influence on Serbia’s own agencies.
On Tuesday, Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said the authorities in Podgorica would investigate the extent of Russian and Serbian involvement in the alleged coup attempt on election day.
Twenty people, including the former commander of the Serbian Gendarmerie Bratislav Dikic, were arrested in Montenegro on October 16 on suspicion of planning to overthrow Djukanovic.
On October 24, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said the Serbian authorities had arrested several people who were allegedly following Djukanovic and planning illegal acts in Montenegro.
However, he also insisted they had no connection to the Serbian state, but had connections to a unnamed third country.
The Serbian Prime Minister also claimed the number of members of “powerful foreign intelligence agencies” from both East and West was increasing in Serbia, and added that one senior police officer was under arrest for “disclosing confidential information”.
Belgrade maintains close political and military relations with Russia and notably refused to join EU sanctions imposed on Moscow over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its perceived role in the separatist armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.
By contrast, Montenegro’s once warm relations with Russia have cooled over the years, epecially because of its intention to join NATO.
A former foreign minister and ambassador to Washington, Miodrag Vlahovic, said Patrushev’s visit to Belgrade inevitably had some connection to recent developments in the two countries.
He told BIRN on Wednesday that the Serbian Prime Minister’s statement was a clear reference to Russian intelligence’s involvement in activities about which the public can still only guess.
“What Patrushev will say to his hosts in Belgrade is futile to speculate about. Presumably, that will provide assurances that the FSB is not behind casually mentioned threats against Vucic, the Serbian government and the Serbian state,” he said.
The memorandum of cooperation proposed to Serbia on Wednesday, Vlahovic said, reinforces an impression that Moscow wants to “bring order” to relations between the two security agencies.
“An interpretation of all possible aspects of such a ‘non-binding’ document would require more time. As for Montenegro and its strategic national interests, we should be part of NATO - and we will be soon. Friends from all sides, including our Russian friends, are welcome to Montenegro. With good intentions, of course,” he said.
However, Belgrade-based political analyst Dragomir Andjelkovic was sceptical about claims that the visit of Petrushev had anything to do with recent developments.
“That visit was planned half a year ago, this is a regular visit. The visit would be canceled if the Serbian government arrested members of the Russian secret service.
Even more, this visit shows there is no any problem between Moscow and Belgrade,” he told BIRN.
“Those foreign elements could be from elsewhere, besides Russia. Djukanovic’s image in an international community means that no serious power wants him as an ally.
They do want Montenegro, but not Djukanovic,” Andjelkovic said.