Serbia’s president on Monday praised another shipment of arms from Russia despite fears in the Western Balkans that the country's recent acquisition of military equipment could lead to even more tensions in the region.
President Aleksandar Vučić attended a training exercise at a military base near Belgrade that included recently purchased anti-tank Kornet guided missiles.
“I am pleased that our soldiers are happy about the purchase of Kornets from Russia,” Vučić said. “It is one of probably the best anti-tank weapons in the world.”
“The Kornet is an important defensive tool to deter anyone from potential aggression against our country,” Vučić said.
Serbia has frequently been accused of sabre-rattling and working with its Eastern ally Russia to destabilise neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Kosovo – a former Serbian province which declared independence in 2008.
The Serbian regime led by Slobodan Milošević is widely blamed for triggering a bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s with its hard-line nationalist policies.
During this period, Vučić rose through the ranks of the far-right Serbian Radical Party and held the position of minister of information during Milošević’s rule.
Lately, the country has armed itself mostly with Russian and Chinese warplanes, drones, and anti-aircraft systems.
In recent months, Russia has handed over to Serbia 30 battle tanks and 30 armoured personnel carriers.
Serbia has also recently purchased sophisticated Russian Pantsir air defence systems, as well as attack and transport helicopters and Chinese drones.
Although formally seeking European Union membership, Serbia has refused to fully align its foreign policies with the 27-nation bloc and has worked on strengthening its relations with Russia and China in parallel.
Vučić said on Monday that Serbia “remains on the European path,” but also added that it will continue to “nourish” its friendly ties with Russia and China.
To join the EU, Serbia needs the support of all EU member nations, but the government has maintained frosty relations with fellow Balkan country Croatia, the last member admitted into the bloc in 2013.
Croatia, which is also a member of NATO, seems to be in a mini-arms race with Serbia, which has recently received six used MiG-29 fighter jets from Russia and four more of the type from Belarus.
In November, the Croatian government led by prime minister Andrej Plenković announced the purchase of 12 Rafale fighter jets from France amid criticism from the opposition for not disclosing their price.
In late December, Serbian minister of defence Nebojša Stefanović told the public broadcaster RTS that his ministry is also considering buying the French-made jets.