Serbia has received another tranche of Russian military hardware, pointing to mounting defense ties between Moscow and Belgrade.
Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic recently attended a training exercise at a military base near the Serbian capital of Belgrade. “I am pleased that our soldiers are happy about the purchase of Kornets from Russia,” Vucic said. “It is one of probably the best anti-tank weapons in the world… It is one of probably the best anti-tank weapons in the world.”
The Serbian President is referring to a recent shipment of Russian 9M133 Kornet anti-tank guided missiles, primarily intended for use against main battle tanks (MBTs). According to Serbian media reports, the missiles were accepted into service by the country’s 72nd special operations brigade.
The news follows Serbia’s recently-announced plans to sign a contract for Pantsir S1M air surface-to-air systems, which comes on the heels of Belgrade’s 2019 purchase of six older Pantsir-S1 systems. In November, Serbia took delivery of thirty T-72MS tanks and thirty BRDM-2MS armored personnel carriers as part of an import arrangement worth seventy-five million euros.
Belgrade is likewise cultivating defense ties with Beijing, having recently inked a $20 million deal for six Chinese military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The deal, which made Serbia the first European country to import Chinese drones, also reportedly involved technology and expertise transfers. President Vucic insisted during an October summit that Serbia will freely exercise its right to purchase weapons from whomever it wants. “If anyone thinks that we should ask the U.S. or the EU to decide about our weapons, let’s abolish our state,” he said. “We are a free country that wants to deter a potential aggression,” Vucic averred, adding that Serbia is “on the road to the European Union” and “seeks cooperation with everyone.” Serbian and Russian forces regularly hold joint military drills, the latest being the Slavic Shield 2021 air defense exercises that ran through mid-October 2021.
Serbia’s ongoing defense procurements come amid what some military observers have described as an arms race with neighboring Croatia, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member state that has consistently expressed interest in western military technology. While Serbia received four modernized MiG-29 fighters from Belarus in 2019 to add to its fleet of fourteen such aircraft, Croatia has recently finalized a 1 billion euro deal for a dozen used Dassault Rafale F3-R fighter jets.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.
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