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Russian lawyer Pyotr Nikitin, a sharp critic of the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine, has been allowed to enter Serbia more than 24 hours after authorities at the Belgrade airport confiscated his passport and refused to let him in.

Nikitin, who has lived in Serbia for the past seven years, had been stranded at the airport since early on July 13 after arriving on a flight from Germany.

Nikitin is the founder of the Russian Democratic Society in Serbia, a Russian expatriate association that has grown to tens of thousands of people since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, and linked his ordeal with his anti-war activities.

“Russia has a great influence on the Serbian authorities, who simply fulfill their orders,” Nikitin told RFE/RL after being allowed to enter Serbia.

Nikitin, the organizer of protests in support of Ukraine since the Russian invasion and a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, told RFE/RL on July 13 that the decision to deny him entry was made by Serbia’s Security Information Agency (BIA) chief Aleksandar Vulin.

After being permitted to enter the country on July 14, he said he believed the decision was made by Vulin.

“I have no concrete evidence for this, but there is no other explanation for what is happening,” he said.

Vulin was placed on a U.S. sanctions list on July 11 for allegedly using his position to further Russian and criminal agendas, including arms dealing and drug trafficking.

Before his ordeal ended Nikitin said officials continued to try to get him to board a flight out of the country even though he has a valid residence permit, is married to a Serbian citizen, and has two children there.

“Twice a day, the police offer me to board a flight to Frankfurt (from where he arrived in Serbia), which I repeatedly refuse,” he said, adding that he had appealed the ban.

Nikitin, who holds dual Russian and Dutch citizenship,arrived at Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport after a vacation. In his earlier comments, Nikitin said he had “good signals” from the Dutch Embassy that officials there would “take measures within their jurisdiction to help me.”

Nikitin’s Russian Democratic Society has been organizing protests against Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and has been helping antiwar Russians settle in Serbia, which has historically friendly ties with Russia and has refused to join sanctions on Moscow imposed by most of Europe and Ukraine’s Western allies after the invasion.

In support of Nikitin, anti-war activists protested in front of the Serbian Parliament on July 13, and an online petition was launched to allow him to enter Serbia.

“An injustice was done to him. There is no reason for the ban, and we would like to see an explanation from the state,” Anastasia Vorjanova, a Russian Democratic Society coordinator, told RFE/RL.

Lawyer Cedomir Stojkovic, who represents Nikitin, said at the protest that Nikitin had a Serbian identity card and residence permit.

“You can’t issue a ban on entering Serbia just because Aleksandar Vulin doesn’t like Peter Nikitin, who doesn’t like Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Stojkovic told RFE/RL.

Srdjan Milivojevic, an opposition lawmaker and member of the Committee for Human and Minority Rights in the Serbian parliament, told N1 television that he was not allowed to visit Nikitin at the airport and provide him with food and water.

Milivojevic said that Nikitin’s “human and minority rights” guaranteed under Serbian law have been violated.

“I was shocked that we are really getting confirmation that the BIA has become a tool and a weapon in the hands of the authorities to advance anti-European politics,” he added.

Serbia has long voiced aspirations to join the European Union. It became a candidate in 2012, but accession negotiations have dragged on, with Belgrade’s close ties to Russia growing as a sticking point.

With reporting by Nevena Bogdanovic

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