BELGRADE -- Russian paratroopers have landed in a Serbian field as part of an unprecedented military exercise in the Balkan nation, which is seeking to join the European Union.
Helicopters and drone aircraft were also used in the one-hour drill on November 14, a show of Russian might in Europe amid severely strained ties between Moscow and the West over the conflict in Ukraine.
It followed a military parade attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Belgrade last month and coincided with a visit by the pro-Putin head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill.
About 200 Russian paratroopers took part in the drill near the northern city of Nikinci, about 50 kilometers from the border with NATO-member Croatia.
Russian media have shown images of camouflage-clad troops and combat vehicles being lowered to the ground from aircraft.
Serbian military analyst Ljubodrag Stojadinovic told RFE/RL last week that joint maneuvers with Russian troops on this scale had never been held in Serbia before.
He said Moscow wants to demonstrate that it has allies in Europe.
Serbian Defense Minister Bratislav Gasic told RFE/RL that the exercises had been planned a year ago, and stressed that Serbia maintains cooperation with many countries.
U.S. National Guard troops are expected to take part in exercises in southern Serbia later this month.
Meanwhile, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, arrived in Belgrade on November 14 and vowed support for what he called "the Serbs' just stance on Kosovo."
Kirill was greeted by a crowd of hundreds, including Serbian Patriarch Irinej and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, when he arrived at Belgrade's airport for a three-day visit.
Kirill visited the Cathedral of Michael the Archangel and the University of Belgrade.
Accepting an honorary doctorate, he vowed that the Russian Orthodox Church would continue to support Serbia on the issue of Kosovo, whose independence is not recognized by Belgrade.
"We commend the courage of those Serbs who, despite the threat to their own existence, do not leave their ancestral lands," Kirill said.
With reporting by Reuters