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Serbian mercenaries drive a wedge between Kyiv and Belgrade

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

18:45, 13 November 2017
Serbian mercenaries drive a wedge between Kyiv and Belgrade

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

According to Security Services, the majority of Serbian mercenaries in Donbas are professional snipers and spies

18:45, 13 November 2017

Read the original text at 112.ua.

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For more than a week, a diplomatic scandal erupted between Ukraine and Serbia. The Ambassador of Ukraine to Serbia, Olexander Alexandrovich focused public attention on the fact that the Serbian authorities are doing nothing to stop the Serbian citizens from taking part in Donbas conflict on the side of terrorist forces. According to the ambassador, Serbian authorities do not solve this problem and do not attract these "soldiers" to criminal responsibility because of relations with Russia. Ukrainian diplomat is convinced that Russia is using Serbia to destabilize the Western Balkans. As examples, he led an attempt by the Serbian ultranationalists to carry out a coup d'état in Montenegro in late 2016, the rapprochement between Russia and the Republika Srpska, an autonomous formation of the Bosnian Serbs, who in the 1990s wanted to secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Related: Serbia intends to join EU but never introduce anti-Russian sanctions

Belgrade reacted harshly. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that allegedly "Ukrainian mercenaries" participated in crimes committed by Croatian forces against the Serbian people in Croatia in the 90s. He believes that Ukraine, unlike Serbia, has never condemned these crimes. Foreign Ministry of Serbia stressed that the country supports territorial integrity of Ukraine and took steps to prosecute Serbian citizens who are fighting abroad. State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia Ivica Tonchev called on the government of Ukraine to explain to Olexander Aleksandrovich the inadmissibility of such behavior. Nevertheless, after consultations with Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, a decision was made that the Ukrainian ambassador will return to Belgrade and continue his work.

Related: Serbia urgently calls out its ambassador from Kyiv

Demarche of Alexandrovich testifies that Kyiv’s cup of endurance is overflowing. Official Belgrade does not recognize annexation of Crimea and declares support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine. However, Serbia has not yet joined the anti-Russian sanctions of the West. Opposition Serbian politicians periodically visit annexed Crimea. According to Security Service (SBU), about 300 Serbian mercenaries passed the warpath in Donbas. Ukrainian ambassador decided to draw attention of the international community to the problem of foreign mercenaries who are killing the Ukrainian military in Donbas. This applies not only to the citizens of Serbia. Russians and some Europeans joined the separatists.

According to SBU, the majority of Serbian mercenaries in the east of Ukraine are professional snipers and spies. One of them, Dejan Berich, premeditated positions of Ukrainian snipers in Debaltsevo and Donetsk airport. According to TSN, Ukrainian military detained Berich, but then he was bought back for 19 thousand dollars and returned to the front. Six citizens of Serbia fought against the Ukrainian military in the ranks of the Russian private military company "Wagner": drivers of military equipment Alexander Milovanovic, Dragan Mirkovic, scout and grenade launcher Dusko Lukic, mortar Zoran Pavic and Nedo Stojanovic. According to Zoran Andreich, the deputy president of the Serbian Movement for Prisoners, members of his organization guarded convoys with Russian humanitarian aid, which was delivered from the Ukrainian-Russian border to the Lugansk airport. In July 2017, the main military prosecutor's office of Ukraine conducted a pre-trial investigation against 84 foreign mercenaries, including citizens of Serbia from the United Continentale organization, based in Belgrade in 2014.

Related: Serbia opened 45 proceedings against its mercenaries fighting in Donbas and Syria

Not all Serbs support the activities of terrorist forces in Donbas. The native of the village of Rusky Krstur (Serbia, Vojvodina region) Samantha Rat-Stoiljkovic, who together with the family received political asylum in Ukraine, is convinced that only 10% of the Serbs support the entry of their country into the Eurasian Union. Samantha is engaged in volunteer activities, helps in supplying Ukrainian fighters in the ATO zone with necessary clothing and equipment. Officially, Ukraine did not interfere in the Transnistrian conflict. However, several hundred volunteers from far-right organization "UNA-UNSO" in 1992 went to Transnistria to ensure the safety of local ethnic Ukrainians. Ukraine responded to the requests of the Government of Moldova to stop this action. To this end, People's Deputy of Ukraine Vyacheslav Chornovil spoke on Moldovan television in July 1992. As a result, the volunteers returned home.

In the opinion of Ambassador Alexandrovich, Ukraine had previously informed Serbian authorities about the existing problem. When the incumbent Serbian president Alexander Vučić was prime minister, he confirmed the participation of Serbian mercenaries in the conflict in eastern Ukraine and urged them to return home. In 2014, Serbia passed a law prohibiting its citizens from participating in foreign conflicts. Recently, the Serbian president has adopted a more passive attitude. In October 2017, he stated that he did not know what else could be done to solve the problem, if no one had permission to participate in military operations abroad. Serbian mercenaries do not want to return to their cities. They earn decent money, working for separatist formations of "DPR" and "LPR", and in case of return to Serbia they can wait for a prison cell. It is advantageous for the Serbian authorities to ensure that the most reactionary sections of society are abroad and do not create social tensions within the country.

Related: Statements of Ukrainian Ambassador to Serbia supported by MFA

Ukrainian volunteers from far-right "UNA-UNSO" really assisted Croatian military in the battles with the Serbian separatists who proclaimed the unrecognized state formation of the Serbian Krajina on the territory of Croatia. Croatian Ukrainians, Greek Catholics, supported the Croats and were against Serb separatism. In Croatia, there are more than 6 thousand ethnic Ukrainians and Rusyns from Galicia and Transcarpathia. Because of actions by the Serbian side in the area of Vukovar in the summer and autumn of 1991, where at that time there were 1500 Ukrainians and Rusyns, more than 200 people were missing, churches and houses were destroyed, and two Ukrainian villages were completely routed. Ukrainian volunteers tried to protect the local Ukrainian minority.

Related: Russian-Serbian friendship, or how Ukraine's ambassador to Serbia offended Serbia

At the same time, in the opinion of Mykhailo Polikarpov, Russian historian and participant in the Bosnian conflict, some volunteers from UNA-UNSO took part in hostilities on the side of Serbian armed formations near Titov-Dvar in November 1994 in Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to News.ru, volunteers from far-right "UNA-UNSO" fought on the side of the Serbs against the Albanian separatists in Kosovo. In February 2008, activists of the "UNA-UNSO" staged an action near the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry in support of the territorial integrity of Serbia and appealed to the Ukrainian authorities not to recognize Kosovo's independence. Ukraine adheres to the policy of non-recognition of Kosovo in relations with Serbia.

Related: Klimkin, Ukrainian ambassador discuss issue of Serbian mercenaries and ties with occupied Crimea

The statement of Dacic is an attempt to discredit the image of Ukraine, to try to hang on us the responsibility for interfering in the internal affairs of other states. In its foreign policy, Serbia relies on the development of two main vectors - relations with the EU and Russia. Serbia is drawing closer to Russia, because it sees in it an influential military-political and trade-economic partner. Belgrade expects to strengthen its position in the Balkans, becoming the conductor of the Kremlin's influence in Europe. The object of this provocation are Ukrainian volunteers. Dacic tried to expose Ukraine as a sponsor of illegal armed formations, former volunteers from "UNA-UNSO", some of whom took part in Donbas conflict, not in the best light: supposedly our volunteers are no better than terrorist troops.

Related: Serbian radical party urges government to expel Ukrainian ambassador

The motives for provocation, for which the interests of the Kremlin might stand, are clear. In recent years, Ukraine has been conducting an information campaign to convince the international community that we are the target of Russia's aggression and that Russian troops and mercenaries are fighting against the Ukrainian military in Donbas. In 2015, PACE recognized the fact of Russia's aggression in Ukraine. The leadership of the EU and the US adheres to the policy of anti-Russian sanctions and demands that Russia withdraw its troops from Donbas and return Crimea. Special Representative of the US State Department on Ukraine Kurt Volker calls things by their own names and confirms that there are Russian troops in Donbas, and the withdrawal of Russian troops is the key to solving the armed conflict. Serbian politicians underestimate the consequences of participating in Russian provocations for their country. Ukraine and Serbia have similar problems with territorial integrity. Separatism in Donbas has created another precedent for activating centrifugal tendencies in other European countries. The recent attempts of Catalonia to secede from Spain are proof of this. In Serbia, separatist tendencies exist in the south of the country, where Albanians live, as well as in Vojvodina (many Hungarians live there). The mistakes of officials in Belgrade can once again bring suffering to ordinary Serbian citizens.

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