The Russian Ties of Arrested Military Trade Union Leader in Serbia

Novica Antić and Vyacheslav Kalinin at the ceremony on the occasion of five years of work of the Military Union. Photo: Facebook account of the Military Union of Serbia

The Russian Ties of Arrested Military Trade Union Leader in Serbia

5. March 2024.11:09
5. March 2024.11:09
The president of the Military Trade Union of Serbia, Novica Antic, is under investigation in Serbia for embezzlement. He maintains close ties with people connected to the regime of Vladimir Putin, while also maintaining contacts in European security circles and veterans in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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Some individuals and Serbian opposition parties, who see Antic as a victim of the system, condemned his arrest. The president of the Military Trade Union is known to the public for his criticism of the Serbian government, particularly in relation to defence and security issues. He’s unabashed in his support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Less well-known is his cooperation with organisations and individuals that support Russian President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine, during which tens of thousands of people have been killed and displaced.

Information collected by Detektor sheds new light on the depths of the Russian ties Antic has maintained since the beginning of the full scale invasion of Ukraine. European organisations with which he cooperates say they did not know about his ties and stances, and now want to reassess their cooperation.

One day prior to his arrest, Novica Antic published his first post on the Russian social media site Vkontakte, which is sometimes referred to as the Russian Facebook.

In a photo from 2019, Antic posed with a group of people in the Serbian Assembly. Standing next to Antic was Vyacheslav Kalinin, an official from the Russian conservative political party “A Just Russia – For Truth”, which supports Vladimir Putin’s agenda. On the party’s website, Kalinin is described as a member of the Central Council and member of the Duma in the Saratov Region of Central Russia.

Antic, with whom Detektor spoke on the day between his two arrests and who denies the prosecution’s allegations of embezzlement, said that Kalinin is his friend.

“The fact is that he is a great friend of the Serbian people and my friend, and we really always have support from Vyacheslav Kalinin for whatever we do. It is known that what we do is in the interest of our colleagues and soldiers,” Antic said.

According to Antic, Kalinin freely travels to Europe and “is not too biassed or extreme,” and is a great friend of the Serbian people.

Antić and Kalinin in the Serbian Parliament. Photo: VKontakte profile of Novica Antić

Kalinin, who is a veteran of the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardiya), is at the same time a director and editor in chief of Veteran News (Veteranske vesti), a publication focusing on military and war veterans issues and whose articles affirm the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Journalists from Veteran News, which often follows Novica Antic, were in Visegrad in 2023 when Aleksej Alehin, a member of the All-Russia People’s Front, laid flowers on the graves of Russian volunteer soldiers who died in BiH. The All-Russia People’s Front is a political organisation founded and led by Vladimir Putin. The organisation and seven of its prominent members are on the EU sanctions list for their connections to the war in Ukraine.

Veteran News was officially registered in 2016 as a news agency publishing in several languages, including in English, French, Spanish and German.

The goal of the publication can be found on the web page of the Russian President’s Fond, which lists projects that have applied for funding from the state budget. There it’s stated that Veteran News plans to expand cooperation between veterans’ organisations in Russia and Eastern Europe. Apart from Russian veterans, the project’s statement mentions veterans from Republika Srpska, Belarus, Poland, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Asked through Veteran News for comment, Kalinin did not respond prior to the publication of this article.

Another position held by Kalinin is his membership in the Public Council of the Defence Ministry of the Russian Federation.

Kalinin wished a happy birthday on his Vkontakte account to his “Serb brother”, the president of the Military Trade Union of Serbia, on the day of Antic’s February 27th arrest. The next day Kalinin said that he believed the case had a political motive and was “an instrument of pressure” on Serb veterans.

“We notice that some circles, unfavourable towards Serbia and Russia, are trying to discredit the name of the true Serbian patriot Novica Antic and his associates on their channels. And, very sadly, some members of Serbian security forces and law enforcement agencies believe this slander,” Kalinin wrote in his statement published on the Veteran News’ website in Russian and the Serbian Military Trade Union’s Serbian language Facebook account.

Novica Antić, in one of his visits to the Russian Federation in 2019, met with members of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), a political party with 23 members in the Russian Duma currently and hundreds in regional Russian parliaments, which celebrated its 30th anniversary that year. At least one member of that party, who was a volunteer on the side of the Bosnian Serb Army in the past war, is a regular guest at the celebration of the Day of Russian Volunteers in Visegrad. He and other Russian volunteers maintain ties with the authorities in Republika Srpska.

During the big event of LDPR, Antic took a photo with Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Zhirinovsky, who passed away in 2022, is known for his anti-Western rhetoric and for calling for war with NATO in the case of bombardment of Serb positions in BiH in 1994. Long before 2014, Zhirinovsky called for the annexation of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

This was not Antic’s only visit to Russia. During one of those visits he was given a medal.

Antic says that, as a representative of the Military Trade Union of Serbia, he and some colleagues were guests in the Russian Duma in 2021 where they were received by representatives of the Committee on Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs as well as the Committee on Defense. Confirming that he had met Zhirinovsky, Antic added that he was a guest of Zhirinovsky’s first deputy Yaroslav Nilov, from whom Antic received the recognition.

“And then, for merits done, so to say, in respecting the tradition and cherishing the relations between Serbian and Russian veterans and soldiers, we received that recognition,” Antic said.

He explained that it was a tradition in Serbia to cooperate with Russia, adding that his organisation is also trying to maintain contacts with other organisations fighting for the rights of soldiers, both in the region and internationally.

Antić visiting the LDPR in Moscow. Photo: Facebook profile of Vyacheslav Kalinin

Judging by the content he shares on social media, Antic maintains connections in Republika Srpska, particularly with the Association of Veterans of Republika Srpska. At least once he met with one of the Association’s leaders, general secretary of the Veterans of the Bosnian Serb Army Aleksandar Nedic.

Nedic declined to speak to Detektor about the arrest of Novica Antic.

Dusko Vukotic, president of the Assembly of Veterans of Republika Srpska, says the organisation from BiH does not interfere with union activities of the Military Trade Union in Serbia.

“We are in good relations with them. We also have an agreement on technical cooperation primarily because many members of the Military Trade Union of Serbia are war veterans who are still employed in the Serbian Army and Ministry of Defence, and that brings us closer. We have very close human relations,” Vukotic said.

He says that the main interest in the case of Novica Antic comes from the fact that he fought in the war in Serbia in 1999. He added that Antic is part of the leadership of a joint organisation formed by veterans from Republika Srpska and Serbia.

“He is the president of a commission in the organisation we jointly created with veterans from the Republic of Serbia – its name is the Veterans Organization of Serbia and Srpska, which is registered in Belgrade,” Vukotic said.

The organisation was established in Serbia in late October last year.

Antic said that the cooperation with veterans from Republika Srpska started much earlier, because they had numerous links with soldiers and military veterans from Republika Srpska.

On its web page, the Military Trade Union of Serbia describes itself as “an autonomous, independent, voluntary, non-partisan, interest organisation of employees of the Ministry of Defence and Serbian Army.”

The organisation was founded in 2012, and gained recognition based on achieving sufficient membership in 2015. Its web page states that the union has more than 6,000 members and 45 union groups.

In late 2019, Novica Antic joined a right-wing election coalition named Metla [Broom], which was put together by the right-wing and nationalist Democratic Party of Serbia. After poor election results in parliamentary and local elections in Serbia, Antic said that the reasons for the coalition had ceased to exist.

Antić with Aleksandar Nedić, general secretary of “Veteran’s RS”. Photo: Facebook profile of Novica Antić

Antic has also built ties with the Russian security services’ union. This was confirmed in a post on the Serbian Military Trade Union’s web page from 2019, stating that Antic had visited Russia at the invitation of, among others, Aleksei Lobarev, the president of the Association of Unions of Judicial Authorities, Police and Security Services of the Russian Federation. Kalinin could also be seen in photos.

During his three-day visit, the union’s web page states, they discussed interactions in the implementation of laws in Russia and Serbia in the security sector.

During late November and early December 2023, a Military Trade Union of Serbia representative attended a target-shooting tournament dedicated to Russian volunteer Albert Andijev, who came to Kosovo along with a group of Russian volunteers in 1999. This was the period when the armed forces of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia, as well as paramilitary units, committed crimes across Kosovo.

As stated in the Military Trade Union’s post, Andijev fought in Kosovo under the command of General Bozidar Delic, who was investigated for war crimes and against whom activists submitted evidence to prosecutors. Delic, who was never indicted, died in Russia in August 2022.

There have been connections to the Military Trade Union of Slovenia, as well as to EUROMIL, an umbrella nonprofit organisation of European military associations.

Representatives of the Military Trade Union of Serbia, including Novica Antic, were guests at EU institutions in October 2023.

According to a post on their Facebook page, the European Organization of Military Associations and Trade Unions (EUROMIL) and the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) organised a visit by the delegation of the Serbian Military Trade Union with EU parliament members Alessandra Moretti, Viola von Cramon and Vladimir Bilcik.

Pablo Sanchez, EPSU communications officer, confirmed to Detektor that the Serbian Military Trade Union was a member of EPSU and that Antic attended several events organised by the organisation.

“Our stance is that he should be released and any charges put forward should be communicated. As we speak he is again in jail. This is clearly an abuse to the presumption of innocence or the rule of law”, Sanchez said.

When asked about Antic’s Russian connections and anti-Ukrainian stance, which he communicates on his Facebook account, EPSU said they were not familiar with that segment of Antic’s professional life.

“We are not aware of any pro-Russian or anti-Ukranian views,” EPSU said.

They also said they are not familiar with Antic’s support for the Halyard Foundation, which preserves the memory of Chetniks in World War Two.

“We are not aware of any project in this regard. Would we be aware we would be very shocked, but we have never seen or read anything previously [about it],” Sanchez said.

The delegation of the Military Trade Union of Serbia previously attended EUROMIL events.

Antić, Jacob and Kalinin at the World Congress of Veterans in Belgrade. Photo: Facebook profile of Vyacheslav Kalinin

In March 2023, a congress of the World Veterans Federation was held in Belgrade. The event connected Vyacheslav Kalinin with European veterans and EUROMIL. A photograph published by Kalinin depicts EUROMIL President Emmanuel Jacob leafing through the Veterans News magazine together with Antic and Kalinin. Kalinin posted several photographs taken during the congress with representatives of veterans of European states that have introduced sanctions against Russia.

While Antic claims that the Military Trade Union of Serbia is part of EUROMIL and several other international organisations, EUROMIL stated that the Military Trade Union of Serbia only has an observer role in the organisation and is not an official member.

Jacob told Detektor that they have had only two contacts with Antic, one of which was the event in Belgrade. He added that EUROMIL has no connections with any organisations from Russia and that his organisation provides a large amount of support to Ukraine in its fight against the invasion.

Commenting on the photo from Belgrade depicting him in company of Antic and Kalinin, Jacob says it was unfortunate that the photograph was taken given that he did not read Veteran News. Antic had only handed him a copy.

“Like many others participants, I regretted that the WVF had invited a Russian representative at the Congress. But as guest this was not our competence. I know that Slava Kalinin was already in the past at the WVF congresses but expected that after the full-invasion [of Ukraine] he would not have been invited by the WVF,” Jacob said.

In communication with Detektor he emphasised that EUROMIL does not maintain any Russian ties nor does it want members that do so.

Kalinin used his trip to Serbia to visit a high school in Vranje, where he took a photo wearing a T-shirt with a symbol of support for the invasion of Ukraine.

In Vranje, wearing that T-shirt, he met a representative of the Serbian Orthodox Church. He was also a guest at the Russian Embassy in Belgrade, where he laid flowers on the grave of Russian volunteer Albert Andijev.

Among the medals Kalinin has publicly announced receiving, and which can be seen in his publicly available photographs, is one awarded for merit by the Directorate General for International Military Cooperation of the Russian Defence Ministry.

In publicly available photographs Kalinin can be seen with a representative of the Night Wolves, the sanctioned biker club close to Vladimir Putin.

While his meetings and contacts indicate Antic’s connections with individuals and organisations from Russia, he strongly denies being a Russian representative, as well as allegations that he has turned towards Western organisations lately.

“I am a pro-Serbian man, who was born in Yugoslavia and raised to love man as a man, not by his nationality or ethnicity, if you ask me as Novica Antic,” he said.

He sees his arrest as a part of political pressure that began in 2016.

He says there is no concrete evidence supporting media claims that he was arrested for displeasing the Serbian authorities.

“They probably decided to make this radical move, so to speak, to try to compromise the Trade Union and the Trade Union’s leadership by accusing us of engaging in certain embezzlement of Trade Union’s financial resources, which is of course ridiculous,” Antic said.

Enes Hodžić

This post is also available in: Bosnian