Serbia’s president on Monday praised another arms shipment from Russia despite fears in the Balkans that the country’s recent military buildup could lead to more tensions in the war-torn European region.
President Aleksandar Vucic attended a training exercise at a military base near Belgrade that included recently purchased Kornet anti-tank guided missiles.
“I am happy that our soldiers are happy with the purchase of Kornets from Russia,” Vucic said. “It’s probably one of the best anti-tank weapons in the world.”
“The Kornet is an important defensive tool to deter anyone from potential aggression against our country,” Vucic said.
Serbia has often been accused of making noise and working with Slavic ally Russia to destabilize neighboring Bosnia, Montenegro and Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008.
Serbia is widely blamed for triggering a bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s with its nationalist policies. The country has recently armed itself mainly with Russian and Chinese warplanes, drones and anti-aircraft systems.
In recent months, Russia has handed over 30 combat tanks and 30 armored personnel carriers to Serbia. Serbia has also recently purchased sophisticated Russian Pantsir air defense systems, as well as Chinese attack and transport helicopters and drones.
Although officially seeking membership in the European Union, Serbia has refused to align its foreign policy with the 27-nation bloc and has instead strengthened its alliance with Russia and China.
Vucic said on Monday that Serbia “remains on the European path”, but also added that it will continue to “nurture” its friendly relations with Russia and China.
To join the EU, Serbia needs the support of all EU member countries, but the government has maintained frosty relations with Balkan compatriot Croatia, the latest new member admitted to the bloc.
Croatia, which is also a member of NATO, is engaged in a mini-arms race with Serbia, which recently received six second-hand MiG-29 fighter jets from Russia and four more of the same type from Belarus. In November, the Croatian government announced the purchase of 12 Rafale fighter jets from France.