Serbia president tells Wagner to stop recruiting for Ukraine
Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic has criticised Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group for its recruitment drive in the former Yugoslav republic for the war in Ukraine.
Vucic has not previously openly criticised Russia, a strong ally of Serbia.
Russian websites and social media groups have carried Serbian-language adverts recruiting for Wagner.
“Why do you do that to Serbia?” Vucic told an interviewer this week. “Why do you, from Wagner, call anyone from Serbia when you know that it is against our regulations?”
He denied Wagner had an operation in Serbia. It is illegal for Serbs to fight abroad.
The US advised Serbia last week to block Wagner recruitment. “Wagner Group is seeking to recruit soldiers from Serbia and elsewhere and that’s something we think cannot stand,” Derek Chollet of the US State Department said while visiting Belgrade last week.
Wagner has several Serbian-language recruitment ads, with some run by RT, the Kremlin-funded broadcaster. Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, a tycoon close to Putin, denied the group had any Serbian members.
The Pentagon estimated in December that Wagner had 50,000 troops in Ukraine, approximately a fifth of Russia’s invasion force. Serbia has condemned the invasion of Ukraine but it has refused to impose sanctions on its ally with which it shared strong ethnic Slavic and Orthodox Christian ties.
Russia supports Serbia’s refusal to recognise the independence of Kosovo and Vladimir Putin is blamed for stoking tensions in the former Serbian province and in war-torn Bosnia.
The Serbian comments follow the defection of a Wagner commander to Norway, alleging that he witnessed executions and other rights abuses.
Andrei Medvedev said Russian border guards shot at him as he crossed the Norwegian border on Friday. The 26-year-old is the first supposed Wagner commander to defect since the February invasion.
Medvedev promised to provide evidence of war crimes against Wagner and Prigozhin. He claimed Wagner troops – many of whom are recruited from Russian prisons – who deserted or refused to follow orders were executed by a special unit.
Medvedev said he saw Wagner troops killing at least four Ukrainian prisoners of war. “I stood to the side, but I saw all these,” the asylum seeker told gulagu.net, a rights group in Russia.
Wagner training. Picture credit: YouTube