Serbia has over the weekend received a delivery of Russian-made Pantsir S1 air-defense systems, despite warnings of possible U.S. sanctions against the Balkan state, which is seeking membership in the European Union.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic made the announcement on television on February 23 a day after the Defense Ministry confirmed receiving two of the six ordered short-range, rapid-fire antiaircraft systems.
“Serbia strengthened its defensive and deterrent capabilities,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Vuicic intimated the radar-guided systems were purchased after suggestions from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Buy Pantsir, it showed its best efficiency in Syria,” Vucic quoted Putin as saying during one of their recent meetings.
The delivery stems from a deal made last year that comes with a target detection and designation radar, target and missile tracking radar, and electro-optical sensor systems.
“Each Panstir system is capable of guiding up to four missiles at a time,” Air Force Technology reported.
They are meant for defense against cruise missiles, drones, and aircraft.
Despite formally seeking EU but not NATO membership, Belgrade has maintained strong political and economic relations with Moscow.
The delivery of the Pantsir systems come less than a week after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Belgrade, praising the two countries’ “upward trend” in defense cooperation.
Serbia has increased defense spending every year since 2016 and last year spent $906 million, or 28.7 percent more, on defense than the previous year, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS).
In the past three years, the Serbian military has purchased from Russia five Mi-17V-5 helicopters, four Mi-35M fighter helicopters, and received six donated MiG-29 aircraft.
Additionally, Serbia last year received 30 armored combat vehicles from Russia, as well as 30 more T-72 tanks.
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.
NATO intervened in 1999 to stop a bloody Serbian crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999.
The United States has threatened sanctions against Serbia if it purchases weapons that could jeopardize the security of neighboring NATO member states.
Serbia Receives Delivery Of Russian Antiaircraft Systems Despite U.S. Sanction Threats