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          • Year: 2016
          • Russia as a treat to EU and obstacle to Serbian accession to EU

          • Belgrade Centre for Security Policy is presenting an interview that BCSP Executive Director Predrag Petrovic had with a Dutch expert Matthéus van den Bersselaar.

        • Matthéus van den Bersselaar is an expert on integrity building in the security and intelligence services at the CEDAR Advisors. He worked for decades in the Dutch security service, and has extensive knowledge on Serbia and Western Balkans region.

          This is the second out three pieces of this interesting conversation, so keep following. The first part can be read here.



          You have been talking very much about radicalization and terrorism as threats to Europe, but what about Russia? Russia is becoming more and more assertive towards its neighbors. But also within Europe Russian services are conducting a lot of intelligence operations. How big this threat is for Europe?

          You call it assertive, I call it also ridiculous. The special services in the Russian Federation have become powerful weapons in the hand of the president. The services are nowadays part of everyday-life, economics, foreign policy, sports-events, fraud, money-laundering, corruption, and political killings: so to say a secret police, only obeying orders from the president himself.

          Europe is once again on the way back to the era of Cold War and solely Russian Federation is to blame for that. Russians are spying at any level, any subject and against any costs just to satisfy their leader. Not only NATO and EU, any supranational organization, but also individual countries, all are target for espionage. The fewer friends the Russians have, the more assertive and aggressive they become. It is a matter of great concern for all EU and NATO states how Russian Federation is developing, how unpredictable its sayings and deeds are becoming.


          What is the role of Russia here in the Balkans? And how deep is the cooperation with the security services in Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro?

          I do not have knowledge of the nowadays magnitude of the influence and presence of the Russian services in the Balkan-region. From the past, and there is no reason why it would be different now, their strategy was to exert maximum influence on Yugoslavia by claiming the old friendship. Surely the Russians will observe Balkan as an observation-post on the rest of Europe; some EU-membership, some NATO-states, and that all in an area that is easy to handle.

          To speak about ‘cooperation’ when referring to the relationship between Russian services and the services of Macedonia, Montenegro or Serbia, it sounds much too balanced. Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro are no match for the ever dominating Russians, and not strong in terms of reputation, professionalism and legitimation.

          From a historic point of view, Serbians always had the best ties and in this the military services and BIA will no doubt shelter dozens of officers, very loyal to the once Russian masters. This fact also hinders a full cooperation between Serbian and EU-services. Modern and transparent legislation, proven and shown autonomy would be positive, a full scale sanitizing of current staff and leadership much better. Within EU, in spite of the ongoing accession-process in Serbia, security - and intelligence - services are fully aware of the, at its best, ambivalent position of the Serbian services.

          For the Russian services, the ambitions of the countries in the Balkan to become members of NATO and EU, are acceptable as the region will be a fertile and safe playing-ground for the stealing of any EU and NATO secret. Especially BIA should want to prevent that from happening by aiming its capacity of counterespionage mainly on the Russian services (and its agents) and in this way creating a much more mature position towards them.


          But, can then the Serbian security services contribute to European security? Can they be trusted by their European counterparts due to this Russian influence?

          Above is the answer. If BIA wants to become a fully accepted member of the EU -security and intelligence - community, it has to prove that its loyalty is indeed west-side. EU colleague-services never would impose on Serbian services to break off relationship with the Russian colleagues entirely. Serbian service could be more standing up against the Russians, not to break up relationships, but to say: ‘okay, if we have to exchange on mutual subjects, we will do so, but do not come here and control us, do not take away every political and economic state-secret, and respect our laws, human rights and ethical principles.

          If Serbia would do something like that and at the same time have democratically embedded services, controlled by an impartial state-body and that would show trust by sharing information with colleague-services, only then this could be a start from case-by-case-contact to institutionalized cooperation between the Serbian and EU-services, also within Club de Berne and other forums. I have the firm opinion that EU-services rather have a legitimate BIA to cooperate with, than an isolated Serbian service that is loyal to a Russian service that in its actions is illegal and without integrity.

          The Serbian security services, well positioned in the Balkan, could be of great value for the rest of the EU. In every aspect that Serbian services are developing in modern, controlled and reliable services, the EU-services could adopt colleague-services in the Balkan and as mentors monitor the changes. For EU that surely would be beneficial and it would stabilize the whole region. Subjects like illegal migration, counter-proliferation, espionage and security of governmental structures/energy-security and not at the least counter-terrorism would be important common issues. BIA could participate at the CTG’s meetings organized by AIVD every week in Netherlands. But previously it has to reform and guaranty third party rule. 


          But at the same time the EU has a common policy towards Russia that everyone should follow.

          That is right and mostly in the areas of sports, economics and the free traveling of Russian authorities. If the urgency and the risk of a terrorist attack is eminent, you can be sure that the involved country/service with no hesitation will contact the Russian counterpart if the casus has a Russian relevance or element. In principal, contacting them in any issue with a Russian element in it, that involves the risk of losing lives if one does not exchange (vital) information, is permitted.


          A very important issue is establishing relations of Serbian security services with Russian ones on a healthy and predictable level, and in a regulated manner. But what else Serbian security services ought to do for Serbia in order to join the EU?

          Since a long time the way of working and acting of BIA towards Russian Federation have not changed. Not only in common practice, but also in terms of legislation and control the service remained the same, even though EU and colleague-services from EU told BIA to change, so they do need to be changed. Supervision from above has to exist, i.e. oversight by a body that functions outside and that is neutral. It is not enough to leave it as it is - a commission that only conducts the surveying of the services. Further on, you have a piece of legislation of five pages and 23 rules there, which leads to the services being more of a threat to the society than serving it, something that leads to the conclusion that there is no chance that you could join the EU services arena. And it also means that you cannot convince others, not even by a sponsor, that you are always respecting the third country rule, that you have personnel who have been vetted and found well qualified, honest, decent people. All of the rules for having an open service have to be put on paper, along with not mentioning sources of information or leaving behind or mentioning acquired secrets. Likewise, there should be no more political appointments. If you are not willing to do something like that, than you will not be able to join the EU.

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