Serbia ramps up military capabilities, but affirms it sticks to neutrality

A delegation of Serbia's defence ministry and air force, led by Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin, attends the handover of four Belarusian MiG-29 aircraft, together with Belarussian Chief of Armed Forces, Major-General Andrej Fedin. [BETA PHOTO]

Continuing recent efforts to improve its armed forces, Serbia took over four more MiG-29 aircraft from Belarus. The country wants to join the European Union but not NATO, and is seeking good ties with both Moscow and Washington. EURACTIV.rs reports.

The aircraft will be transferred to Serbia after the completion of the overhaul that began on 22 February, Serbia’s defence ministry said.

Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin, who attended the handover of the aircraft in Baranavichy in western Belarus, said that this new batch of warplanes came as a result of “personal relations between Vucic and Belarus President Lukashenko”.

With the four Belorussian jets, Serbia will have 14 fourth-generation MiG-29s, which Vulin placed among ‘the most modern aircraft in the world’.

The Serbian air force has not been stronger in decades, its pilots can now count on flying hours like in the Yugoslav People’s Army, they can count on piloting the most up-to-date aircraft, and domestic skies and Serbia will be safe, free and independent, Vulin said during the handover.

Over the course of this year, the Serbian Armed Forces are also to receive seven new helicopters from Russia, specifically four Mi-35s and three new Mi-17 transport helicopters, along with nine Airbus H-145 helicopters for the army and police.

After the bloody break up the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Serbia’s military, especially the air force, was largely destroyed during a NATO air campaign in 1999, which stopped Belgrade’s crackdown against Kosovo Albanian separatists.

But over the last few years, Serbia has been strengthening its domestic military capacities, with the explanation that it did not wish to join any military alliances, and therefore needed an own strong army as a deterrent.

Support to Serbia’s accession to NATO is currently at just 7%, whereas in 2003, four years after the bombing campaign against then former Yugoslavia, it was at 30%. That same year, support for the country’s EU membership was at 70%, while now it is just over 50%.

Belgrade is persistent in its military neutrality and does not want to join NATO, but nonetheless has an Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) signed with the Alliance and partakes in joint programmes and activities.

Vulin announced that the Serbian Army will have a considerable number of activities with NATO this year, the largest number of activities so far with the Collective Security Treaty Organization, but also a large number of bilateral activities with the US and Russia, the largest ever so far.

Serbia is also involved in the military activities of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, which gathers six post-Soviet states, led by Russia.

Last summer, the Russian-Belarussian-Serbian tactical drills, dubbed Slavic Brotherhood-2018, took place in Russia’s southern Krasnodar Region, which is one of the examples the three countries have established in defence cooperation in the region.

Compulsory military service in Serbia was abolished on 1 January, 2011, but Serbian officials are increasingly often mentioning the possibility of reintroducing the service. Defence and security classes are being reinstated in Serbian high schools after 27 years.

The first introductory lecture was hosted by Belgrade’s Fourth Gymnasium high school. The 90-minute lecture was given by representatives of the Regional Centre of the Defence Ministry for Belgrade, the Ministry reported.

The informational defence and security classes will take place in the second semester, first in Belgrade, and then across Serbia.

The head of the Regional Centre, Dragan Stojčić, said that the lectures would be covering a dozen themes, which “young people on the threshold of adulthood should know better than they do now”.

“They will discuss the national defence and security system, the army, how to become a commissioned or non-commissioned officer, or win an enlistment contract with the Serbian Armed Forces, civilian protection, chemical welfare, etc. All these themes have been neglected by the national education system for no good reason,” Stojčić explained.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Alexandra Brzozowski]

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