An agent without cover

An agent without cover

In late February, the leader of the Military Trade Union and opposition figure Novica Antić was detained in Serbia on embezzlement charges. A few days later it became known from Western media that Antić is affiliated with Russian intelligence and has been actively involved in Russia’s influence operations by meeting with European officials and politicians.

Serbian observers saw in these events a manifestation of political infighting in Serbia due to the fact that Antić is a vocal critic of the current government, including its security agencies.

At the same time, foreign experts see this case mainly as an exposure of yet another Russian network of influence.

So what is this case primarily about? “Persecution” of Serbian opposition of another “Moscow agent” in Europe?

POLITICO’s thriller report

In early March, POLITICO Europe, citing sources in Western intelligence agencies, reported that Russia “is using a Serbian agent to infiltrate EU institutions and to spread pro-Kremlin talking points about its invasion of Ukraine.” This turned out to be the chair of Serbia’s Military Trade Union, Novica Antić, who is referred to as an active “agent of influence” for Russia’s Federal Security Service.

According to the publication, in October 2023, Antić held a number of meetings with European officials in Brussels, in particular, with several members of the European Parliament and with representatives of the EUROMIL and EPSU trade unions, which represent the EU’s military and civil servants. Antić’s contacts in Europe unanimously claimed they had not been aware of the man’s ties with Russian intelligence. In particular, EP rapporteur on Serbia, Vladimír Bilčík, and EP rapporteur on Kosovo, Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, emphasized that at the time of their meetings with the head of the Serbian Military Trade Union, they had no information he was affiliated with the FSB.

POLITICO says the fact that Antić held meetings in the European Parliament highlights the body’s vulnerability to Russia’s special operations. Citing a Western intelligence report, the publication states that “Russia is using Serbia as a launchpad for influence operations” and that every opportunity is being used to promote Russian propaganda about the war in Ukraine.

Exposing the details of Antić’s ties with Russia, POLITICO notes that the man works closely with Vyacheslav Kalinin, a Russian national who is founder and editor-in-chief of the Veteranskiye Vesti news agency.

On its website, Veteranskiye Vesti emphasizes its partnership with the Russian security forces. Besides, the outlet’s tone of voice is easily spotted right from the headlines: “Full support for our Armed Forces: the team of Veteranskiye Vesti is always close to our heroes” or “We are waiting for the victory of SMO (special military operation – ed.) fighters”.

Veteranskiye Novosti

Vyacheslav Kalinin is also deputy chairman of the Committee for Veterans’ Affairs, a deputy in the Saratov Regional Duma (“Just Russia – For Truth” Faction). One particular episode from his career as a deputy speaks exhaustively about Kalinin: late last year, he handed over to the “Saratov Museum of SMO” some “new exhibits” – “trophies” that he “together with his allies” brought “from the front line”.

Serbian outlet NIN provides more details into Kalinin’s ties to the Russian army:

“Last June, Kalinin was awarded by the Russian Ministry of Defense for “cooperation in performing the tasks of the special military operation”, as the Kremlin brands the war in Ukraine. “Since the outset of the special military operation, Vyacheslav Kalinin has been providing comprehensive support to combat units, performing tasks on the front line. He participated in the organization and delivery of dozens of humanitarian convoys with unmanned aerial vehicles, equipment, protective equipment, medicines, food, etc. He regularly visits combat units of the Russian Armed Forces, located in the immediate zone of hostilities, as they perform combat tasks, and often takes part himself,” the Russian Ministry of Defense explained. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu conferred on Kalinin a medal of the “Participant of the Special Military Operation”.

Commenting on charges pressed against Antić, Kalinin gave an interview to his own publication: “Our media holding has always supported, supports, and will support working relations with all security bodies and law enforcement agencies in Russia – from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Russian Guard, and FSB to the Investigative Committee and Ministry of Emergency Situations. We have common goals – military-patriotic and spiritual-moral education of our younger generation, perpetuating the memory of the fallen defenders of our Motherland, countering falsifications of history, and preserving traditional values. However, according to Western journalists, this is enough to accuse me and Novica Antić of working for intelligence and even of interfering in the EU’s internal affairs!

…Why are they ‘pushing’ on Antić? Today, a hunt has been declared for all those who share Russia’s position in its fight against the Nazi regime in Ukraine and for the protection of traditional values.”

In the same publication, the publication notes that “Novica Antić is a true patriot and war veteran known far beyond the borders of Serbia. He devoted many years to protecting of the rights of the military, teaching traditional values to the younger generation, and strengthening Russian-Serbian relations.”


It should be noted that Antić himself never hid his Russia ties, and even boasted of them.

In 2019, Kalinin organized Antić’s visit to Russia, where a cooperation agreement was signed between the Union of Russian Paratroopers and the Military Trade Union of Serbia. “The military Trade Union of Serbia is our friendly organization,” Kalinin emphasized at the time (as quoted by Veteranskiye Vesti).

In 2023, as noted by the Serbian publication NIN, Kalinin was on a tour across Serbia, and the reason for the visit was the World Congress of Veterans, held in Belgrade March 6-10. Together with Novica Antić, Kalinin announced the opening of the Belgrade branch of his media holding – Veteranskiye Vesti – Balkans”. At the time, Antic told reporters that the Military Trade Union of Serbia would be part of the new organization.

During that trip, Kalinin visited a gymnasium in the Serbian city of Vranje. Sporting a camo with a Z emblem on his shoulder, he spoke of the importance of historical, cultural, and other ties between Serbia and Russia, and promoted his outlet among school students. The head of the Military Trade Union of Serbia also attended the event.

Antić does not deny his friendship with Kalinin. “The fact is that he is a great friend of the Serbian people and my friend, too, and we really always support Vyacheslav Kalinin, no matter what we do,” Antić said in a recent conversation with the Bosnian publication Detector.

A vivid illustration of the friendship between the two “war veterans” is the fact that after Antić’s arrest, the Military Trade Union of Serbia posted a letter in support of their leader from the editorial board of Veteranskiye Vesti.

It should be added that Antić openly supports Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. In an interview with Veteranskiye Vesti in April 2022, he stated: “We (Serbian war veterans) consider the Russian military operation in Ukraine as a forced move, albeit absolutely necessary, aimed at protecting the Russians and other nations from terror, which Ukrainian neo-Nazis and fascists committed against them”.

Questions and… more questions

It should be noted that the support for Russia’s incursion into Ukraine and friendship with backers of the Russian army in no way prevented Antić from not only being a guest of EU bodies but also from being seen as a respected opposition activist and security expert, who was gladly accepted a speaker for Serbian opposition or independent media. For years, Novica Antić utilized a platform for accusing the leadership of the Serbian Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces of the poor state of the army, of insufficient social protection for servicemen…. So journalists and opposition were happy to add his voice to the criticism of the “Vučić regime”, while, apparently, no one had any issues about the speaker’s pro-Russian stance. Even now, many analysts see in the latest accusations put forward against the head of the Military Trade Union only oppression of opposition by Vučić’s government.

It must be admitted that the arrest of the Trade Union’s chair was indeed completely unrelated to his “intelligence work”. Police detained the head of the Military Trade Union of Serbia on February 27 on “embezzlement” charges. Novica Antić was briefly released by court order before being re-arrested. However, no “espionage” accusations were put forward either.

The Serbian authorities never criticized the Trade Union leader over his cooperation with Russian paramilitary organizations. Although it cannot be ruled out that this fact was tacitly taken into account by Vučić’s team, it is unlikely that any government in any independent country would be willing to put up with external meddling around army issues. Accordingly, it is possible that the topic of financial abuse was chosen for formal charges as more acceptable to Vucic’s pro-Russian electorate. Of course, it was possible to put forward another version, that someone from the current Serbian government “leaked” Antić’s ties with the Russians to Western journalists. But this seems unlikely. Given the sufficiently strong pro-Russian sentiment in Serbia, the step could have very ambiguous consequences for the team in power.

However, most questions arise not toward the authorities in Belgrade, Serbian opposition, or media, but to EU bodies and politicians. Novica Antić’s connections with organizations close to Russia’s security bloc and his pro-Russian views have never been under the table. No sophisticated investigation would be required to reveal all that – this whole data set is a couple of Google search clicks away. But no one in the European Parliament and other European structures has obviously ever thought of doing at least that. And it turns out that if it weren’t for the article in POLITICO, nobody in Europe would have taken note Novica Antić and his Russian propaganda.