President Aleksandar Vučić has called on Russia to cease its efforts to recruit Serbian nationals to fight alongside the Wagner group—a paramilitary group and private military contractor (PMC) considered by some to be a de-facto unit of the Russian Ministry of Defense—in the war in Ukraine.
In comments given during a Serbian television broadcast on Monday, January 17th, Vučić criticized Russian websites and social media groups for publishing recruitment ads in the Serbian language which say the Wagner group is looking for volunteers to join its ranks, citing that the country’s laws which prohibit Serbs from fighting in foreign wars, Reuters reports.
“Why do you, from Wagner, call anyone from Serbia when you know that it is against our regulations?” Vučić said.
The president’s critical remarks come as Serbia, which so far has maintained its close economic ties with Russia amid the war in Ukraine, faces increased pressure from the West to impose sanctions. Serbia’s economy, like many other countries across Europe, relies heavily on gas imports from Russia.
Earlier this month, the Russian state-backed media outlet RT’s Serbian affiliate featured a controversial advertisement that said Wagner is seeking fighters and encouraged Serbs to take part in the war. The Wagner Group has played—and continues to play—a crucial role in the war in Ukraine.
In 2014, when armed conflict broke out in the Donbas region, some Serbs traveled to the area to fight alongside Russian separatists. The exact number of Serbian volunteers who are currently fighting—or who have at one point fought—in the Russo-Ukrainian war is unknown.
Serbian Defense Minister Milos Vucevic has warned Serbs against joining Russian ranks in the war, telling Radio Free Europe in an interview that such actions “will result in legal consequences once they are able to be held responsible by state bodies.”