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Russian Defense Minister Visits Serbia Amid Heightened Tensions In Balkans

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (right) with his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vulin, in Belgrade on February 17.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (right) with his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vulin, in Belgrade on February 17.

Serbian-Russian military cooperation is on an “upward trend” and both countries are committed to “further enhancing” it, Serbia’s Defense Ministry said on its website after hosting a delegation led by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on February 17.

Serbia wants a strong army, Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin said, “because it is a guarantee of stability and neutrality.”

Speaking in Belgrade, Shoigu said that “for our part, we will make every effort to maintain the pace of our relations in the military sphere.”

Serbia maintains strong political and economic relations with Russia despite a proclaimed goal of joining the European Union. Belgrade has pledged to stay out of NATO and refused to impose sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

Russia doesn’t recognize the statehood of Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008.

Moscow has sold Belgrade fighter jets, attack helicopters, and battle tanks over the years, raising concerns in a region that has experienced bloody wars over the past three decades.

In October, Serbia held joint air military exercises with Russia in which the Russian-made long-range S-400 and Pantsir-S systems were deployed.

It was the first time that an S-400 battalion and a Pantsir-S battery had appeared in military drills outside Russia, the Russian Defense Ministry stated at the time.

Amid the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Serbia fought wars against neighbors Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo.

Serbia’s current nationalist leadership is believed to be behind tensions that have recently flared up in neighboring Montenegro and Bosnia.

A Serb pro-Russian leader in Bosnia on February 17 reiterated his call for secession.

In Montenegro, NATO’s 29th and newest member, minority Serbs have for months been protesting a law they say would force the Serbian Orthodox Church to relinquish property to the state.

Shoigu also invited Vulin to attend Victory Day celebrations in Moscow on May 20, the day when Russia observes the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II.

It was Vulin’s ninth meeting with Shoigu since the Serbian official was appointed as defense minister.

With reporting by AP
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