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Serbia Withdraws From Belarus Military Exercise, Citing EU Pressure


Serbian soldiers disembark from MI-8 helicopter during a joint Serbian-Russian Slavic Brotherhood exercise in the town of Kovin, near Belgrade, in November 2016.

BELGRADE -- The Serbian government has decided to suspend all joint international military exercises for the next six months, just one day ahead of the beginning of the Slavic Brotherhood 2020 exercise to be hosted by Belarus.

Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin said on September 9 that the decision was made under heavy pressure from the European Union not to send forces to Belarus, which has been beset by unrest since last month's disputed presidential election.

The EU "asked us to leave the planned exercise with Belarus or risk losing our European future," Vulin said.

The Slavic Brotherhood 2020 exercise is scheduled to be held in the second half of September at a training ground near the city of Brest and was to include forces from Belarus, Russia, and Serbia.

Participants were scheduled to begin arriving in Belarus on September 10, according to the Belarusian Defense Ministry.

Vulin said that Serbia would not participate in any military exercises with NATO, China, Russia, or any other international partner during the six-month moratorium.

"Our participation in peacekeeping operations will be carefully considered and, if necessary, suspended," Vulin said, adding that the decision was made to preserve Serbia's "position of military neutrality."

The Russian news agency TASS quoted a spokesman for the Belarusian Defense Ministry as saying Minsk had not yet been officially informed of Belgrade's decision.

A NATO official said the Western military alliance had "no specific events planned with Serbia for the coming months, but we remain committed to the partnership in the interest of stability and security in the region.”

"NATO has a long-standing partnership with Serbia, which we value," the official said.

Serbia is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program.

Although Serbia has close relations with the government of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Belgrade endorsed an August 11 joint EU-U.S. statement saying the Belarus presidential election was "neither free nor fair" and criticizing the Belarusian government's violent crackdown against protesters.

With reporting by TASS