Analysis of the News “Coordinated attack on Serbia – They attack people who protect the country in order to overthrow President Vučić!”

July 2023

As part of the Regional Initiative in Combating Disinformation “Western Balkans Anti-Disinformation Hub: Exposing Malicious Influences Through Watchdog Journalism“, we present a new analysis of fake news and disinformation narratives.

Coordinated attack on Serbia – They attack people who protect the country in order to overthrow President Vučić!

In light of the recent events, we will look at the main topic in Serbia and throughout the Western Balkans, which is the news about the imposition of sanctions by the United States against the director of the Security and Information Agency of Serbia, Aleksandar Vulin. Due to the dissatisfaction of numerous pro-Russian media outlets, the news became the subject of many speculations and misinformation. This high-ranking official has a diverse political background, and he previously held the position of Minister of Internal Affairs and then Minister of Defense of the Republic of Serbia.

On July 11, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on BIA Director Aleksandar Vulin for “involvement in transnational organized crime, illegal narcotics operations, and abuse of public office.” These offenses include using public office to advance personal interests, including involvement in drug trafficking. Additionally, the statement by the US Department of the Treasury underscores that the public position was being used to support Russia’s endeavors, thereby facilitating Russia’s malicious activities that degrade the security and stability of the Western Balkans and provide Russia with a solid ground for further influence in the region.

Portal Informer describes  it as “an attack on the state of Serbia with the aim of bridling Serbia in line with United States’ interests”. In the following text, the author states that “the United States imposed sanctions on the head of the BIA, Aleksandar Vulin, whom they declared a drug lord, while at the same time, the creators of “Jovanjica” through inspector Dusan Mitić put forward the thesis in court that Defense Minister Bratislav Gašić is a drug lord as well, and that his arrest was required.”
It is not quite clear whether this was an assumption or author’s opinion. Nonetheless, the whole interpretation of the problem is certainly very problematic for several reasons.

First, the United States of America did not declare Alexander Vulin a drug lord, it was not formulated in such a way in any statement, which is less important but factually correct. Secondly, it is questionable whether the term “creators of Jovanjica” refers to the USA or some third party? If authors referred to the USA, the newspaper Informer would have to provide evidence for such claims as how exactly the United States created Jovanjica? Also, the question arises, how did the Informer connect Inspector Mitić, as a member of the Police Department and a whistleblower, with the United States? These questions do not only reveal a potential violation of the journalistic code and laws of the Republic of Serbia, but more importantly, they bring the entire country into a diplomatic dispute, considering that bilateral relations are at stake. It is necessary to mention that the newspaper Informer is directly financed from the state budget. Finally, the wording that the attack on Aleksandar Vulin is an attack on the state is very problematic. The director of the BIA does not constitute the state, and the sanctions were not addressed to the Republic of Serbia, but directly to Aleksandar Vulin for the aforementioned dealings.

In the following article, Informer states the following “European Social Democrats confirmed the real truth: Vulin is sanctioned because he “works for Putin.” As evidence for this claim, a tweet was found in which the European Social Democrats call Aleksander Vulin Putin’s proxy. We could possibly discuss whether the Social Democrats acted ethically correctly if Aleksandar Vulin, as then Minister of Internal Affairs, wasn’t the main actor in the secret wiretapping of Russian opposition politicians who were staying in Serbia and then travelled to Moscow to deliver all classified documents to the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Nikolai Petrushev. The given action resulted in the immediate arrest of Pivarov, who was sentenced to 5 years in prison, and recently the arrest of the oppositionist Kara-Murza in the name of the same affair. In this regard, it should not be surprising if European officials use the term “Putin’s proxy”, given that there are clear indications pointing at the current BIA director, including the newly imposed US sanctions.

Nevertheless, returning to the current state of affairs. As the news occupied the front pages of various papers, the voices of support began to arrive from different parts of Serbia, but also from Republika Srpska.

Among the first, the mayor of Laktas, Miroslav Bojic, sent his support, claiming that the sanctions were imposed on Vulin because he loves the Serbian people, protects their interests, and advocates justice in contrast to the big powers.

After Laktas, Romanija, Pale, Rogatica, and Visegrad, support for the BIA director also came from Srebrenica with the message “Support for our brother, your Srebrenica.” In the meantime, as part of the Srebrenica anniversary, an incident occurred at the University of Sarajevo where two girls of Serbian origin glorified crimes and spread inter-ethnic hatred, after which they were expelled from the Faculty of Criminalistics, Criminology and Security Studies of the University of Sarajevo. This opportunity was welcomed by the director of BIA, who immediately reacted and offered scholarships to the mentioned girls for studies at the Faculty of Security in Belgrade.

The series of support continued in Krajina, sending a message that “The Union of Krajina Associations provides unreserved support to Aleksandar Vulin due to the introduction of sanctions by the proven enemy of the Serbian people – the USA.” And then throughout the entire Republika Srpska, including President Milorad Dodik, President of the National Assembly of the Republic of Srpska, Dr Nenad Stevandić, President of the Socialist Party of Srpska Goran Selak, and many others.

The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, also spoke about the importance of sanctions and the complexity of the situation. Vučić emphasized that the director of the BIA will be prosecuted, but that there is something completely different in between. Namely, the President claims that the sanctions were introduced as a countermeasure for not imposing sanctions on Russia, and that he was explicitly told this the day before Vulin was sanctioned. Among other things, as a subject of discussion on this topic, the President also commented on the export of weapons, which he claims is prohibited for Serbia regardless of international agreements, while the Americans sell cluster weapons. The assumption remains that such a comment alludes to additional reasons concerning the introduction of sanctions against the BIA director, which were not explicitly stated as a response in the address. The newspaper Informer published this article under the title “Open Blackmail”. Such moves to replace theses as presented under the title “Open Blackmail” or “Attack on the State of Serbia” are becoming more and more frequent while carrying significant risks, bearing in mind that the personal responsibility of individual officials is equated with the entire state apparatus, without an essential willingness to review the actions of officials who are on the sanctions list of foreign countries.

Authors: Đorđe Terek, Tanja Plavšić