A short while ago a Serb contact got in touch to talk about the adventures of Unité Continentale, a France-based far-right outfit which sent volunteers to fight for the separatists in Ukraine. The unit achieved little except bad publicity and was disbanded by the Novorossiya authorities not long after it arrived.
Recent months have brought problems for Unité Continentale over its volunteer recruitment, some of which took place in Serbia. The authorities took action and some people got arrested.
Here’s the view on the situation from our man in Serbia.
1. What’s going on with Unité Continentale?
The group arrived in Novorossiya in June 2014 and was disbanded around the start of the next year. It was led by Victor Lenta and Nikola Perovic, both Paris-based veterans of the French army. Perovic was Franco-Serbian which may explain why the group contained a lot of Serbian volunteers as well as Frenchmen.
Lenta and Perovic fell out fairly quickly over who was in charge and this caused a lot of friction in the group. Some think Serbian intelligence may have had a hand in this behind the scenes, because they were unhappy with Perovic recruiting young Serbs to fight in Ukraine. The dispute ended with members of the UC group badly beating a Serb volunteer. They thought he was an informer for Serb intelligence.
After this, the Novorossiya authorities disbanded the group but its members stayed in Ukraine, although a few returned home. That was it until very recently when Serbian intelligence arrested journalist and UC member Radomir Počučad, and five others, upon the request from Ukrainians. These Unité Continentale members are now in deep legal trouble for their involvement in conflict.
2. Why did Serbia arrest these men?
In October 2014, Serbia adopted amendments to its Criminal Code to give imprisonment of up to ten years for all those who are fighting in foreign warfare or organising and recruiting Serbian citizens to make such a decision. So they essentially had to arrest the UC guys. Back in February 2018, the Belgrade High Court issued 28 convictions against Serbian nationals who had participated in the war in Ukraine, although only 4 people were sentenced to prison terms.
However there are many Serbs who have fought for Novorossiya without experiencing any problems. A Serbian sniper named Dejan Beric became a national hero for his actions over there and recently even had a movie made about him!
The authorities obviously have some reason for going after the UC volunteers. It should be noted they also arrested Bratislav Zivkovic at the same time. He is the well-known leader of an earlier group of volunteers active in the Crimea at the start of the Ukraine war. Zivkovic, like the UC guys, is a far-right political figure rather than just a mercenary. He was also banned from Romania for alleged espionage not long ago and has joint Serbian-Russian citizenship.
3. Who ordered the arrests?
Since 2017 the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine has been trying to get Novorossiya volunteers arrested. They have reached out to many different countries, including Serbia, Finland, Spain, the Czech Republic and others. I don’t know what the response was in those places but it looks like Serbia is helping Ukraine, at least against some volunteers.
4. What happens now?
The authorities will investigate to see if there is sufficient evidence against the Unité Continentale guys. If so, they will go to court and could face a prison sentence. We have to wait and see. There is a lot of documentary evidence to place the men in Novorossiya, including mainstream media interviews and their own social media. It is hard to see how they could argue against the charges.
What makes it more complicated is that one of the men arrested – UC member Radomir Počučad – is alleged to have links with Serbian intelligence and was kicked out of Novorossiya for involvement in an alleged assassination attempt against Beric and a man called Vujic, both prominent [non-UC] Serb volunteers.
More on Unité Continentale in Part 2.
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