While Russian embassies in neighbouring countries shrunk due to the expulsion of diplomats suspected of breaching protocol, Moscow’s mission in Serbia has grown since the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine.
Moreover, a Radio Free Europe investigation in March 2023 suggested that at least three diplomats who were blacklisted by EU member states had resurfaced in Serbia. Leaked documents appeared to show these diplomats had ties to Russian intelligence.
They are still recognised by the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which means they’re still in Serbia.
Since the beginning of the war, Russia has increased its staff in Belgrade from 54 diplomats in February 2022 to 68 in February this year, Serbian Foreign Affairs Ministry data shows.
“Increasing the number of diplomats usually means that this country is very important and the activities in that country are increasing, whether they are legal or illegal,” says Predrag Petrovic, research director at Belgrade Center for Security Policy.
Another RFE revelation alleges that a Russian diplomat and alleged spy expelled by the European Union for “illegal and disruptive actions” was serving as a long-term election observer of the Belgrade OSCE mission.
After the Serbian early parliamentary and local elections in December 2023, the opposition held protests because of irregularities in the vote, which were also confirmed by the domestic NGO CRTA and the OSCE election observation mission.
Serbian PM Ana Brnabic said the state had collected information about these demonstrations from foreign intelligence agencies, especially the Russians.
“This sends the message that Serbia is closely tied to Russia in terms of intelligence as well,” says Petrovic.
These examples back up claims that Serbia is Moscow’s regional proxy and a “small Russia in the Balkans”, which is certainly bad, Petrovic adds.