BELGRADE, Serbia — Pro-democracy Russians in Serbia protested Sunday after two prominent anti-war activists and critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin said they faced problems with entry and residence permits in the Balkan country.
Several dozen activists held banners reading “We came to live in peace” and ”I love Serbia and I want safe and happy life here,” as they gathered at a central square in Belgrade, the Serbian capital.
The rally came days after Serbian police refused to extend a residency permit for Vladimir Volokhonski and weeks after another prominent activist, Peter Nikitin, spent more than one day at the Belgrade airport because of an entry ban, according to the two activists.
Serbia’s authorities have cited unspecified security concerns in both cases, they said. There was no immediate response to an email request for comment from police by The Associated Press.
“We are here today to protest against the pressure … Russian antiwar activists (have been) experiencing here in Serbia recently,” Nikitin said. “None of us understand how anything we do can threaten national security of Serbia … we have no idea what’s next.”
About 200,000 Russian citizens are believed to have fled to Serbia since the start of the invasion of Ukraine as the fellow Slavic nation does not require visas for Russians.
The Balkan nation has maintained friendly relations with Russia and has not joined Western sanctions against Moscow, despite condemning its invasion of Ukraine. Serbian authorities have not commented on either Nikitin’s or the case of Volokhonski.
Nikitin and Volokhonski both have been active in organizing protests against the invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s crackdown on political opponents. The two formed the Russian Democratic Society in Serbia, which gathers democracy-minded Russians in the Balkan country.
Volokhonski said he believed the refusal by the authorities to extend his stay in Serbia “is connected to our activities is Serbia, our Russian Democratic Society events here, or our activities to help Ukraine, to support our political prisoners in Russia.”
The United States recently imposed sanctions against Serbia’s pro-Russia intelligence chief, Aleksandar Vulin, accusing him of crimes and corruption. Serbian media have reported that Vulin wiretapped a Russian opposition meeting in Belgrade in 2021, which he has denied.
Nikitin said many Russian fellow-activists residing in Serbia have been travelling over the summer and they too could face problems upon return. He adds that “that is why we felt it is important to come out and draw attention to this.”
Source : AP News