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Serbia Negotiating Purchase Of More Russian Arms After Vucic's Visit To Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Moscow on December 19
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Moscow on December 19

Serbia is negotiating the purchase of military helicopters from Russia in one of several possible new Russian arms purchases that could heighten tensions in the Balkans.

Serbia's Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin told Serbian state TV on December 21 that a "high level of military cooperation" between the two countries was agreed between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during Vucic's visit to Moscow this week.

Vulin said Serbia wants to buy six MI-17 helicopters as well as form an overhaul base for the Russian choppers, which in effect would give Russian military personnel a presence in the country.

Serbian officials said Serbia and Russia are also discussing supplies of Buk-M1 and Buk-M2 missile systems and the delivery of six additional MiG-29s and possibly S-300 air-defense systems from Belarus.

Vulin said that close military and other ties with Russia have "significantly changed and strengthened" Serbia's position internationally.

In October, Russia gave the Serbian Air Force six older model MiG-29 fighter jets and Moscow has also promised to donate 30 used battle tanks and 30 armored vehicles to Serbia.

With neighboring Montenegro recently having become NATO's newest member and other Western Balkan nations aspiring to join NATO, Serbia's acquisitions put it at odds with neighboring states, including Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, that it waged war with in the 1990s during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

Serbia, like other Western Balkan nations, has been on a path to join the European Union. But under pressure from Moscow, Belgrade has insisted it won't join NATO and has maintained what it calls "military neutrality."

Serbia is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program and has held military exercises with both the Western military alliance and the Russian military.

Based on reporting by AP, TASS, and Interfax