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News 31 Aug 16

Serbian Army Trains More With NATO Than Russia

Although little-reported in local media, Serbia conducted 206 joint military activities with US and NATO in 2016 but only 17 with Russia, the defence ministry told BIRN.

Sasa Dragojlo
Photo: Serbian Defence Ministry

Serbia has been involved in 116 joint military activities with NATO and 90 bilateral military activities with the United States but only 17 with the Russian Army so far in 2016, the defence ministry told BIRN.

Military expert Aleksandar Radic told BIRN that this is well-known in military circles but local media are more interested in reporting on cooperation with Russian forces.

“Serbian media are often using spin in order to attract attention. They did the same with talk about a Russian military base in [the southern city of] Nis, which was not true… that is not a military base, but a classic humanitarian centre without military intentions,” Radic said.

“Serbia has ten times more military cooperation with the West than with Russia,” he added.

The defence ministry said that the participation of Serbian Army troops at the International Military Games 2016 from July 30 until August 13 in Russia and the purchase of two Mi-17 helicopters were the most significant examples of cooperation with Moscow in 2016.

Serbia proclaimed a doctrine of military neutrality in December 2007 and the current government has announced no plans to change the policy.

However, the country is linked to NATO through the alliance’s Partnership for Peace programme. In March 2015, Serbia concluded an Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO, considered the highest level of cooperation with NATO for a non-member country.

Opinion about NATO has been deeply divided in Serbia since the Western alliance launched air strikes against the former Yugoslavia during a 78-day bombing campaign in 1999, forcing Serbia to withdraw from Kosovo. Kosovo was then placed under international administration and declared independence in 2008.

Many Serbs remain bitter about the loss of the province, regarding it as the “cradle” of Serbian nationhood.

According to public opinion surveys conducted earlier this year, 80 per cent of Serbians are opposed to joining in NATO.

An opinion poll conducted in February by the research company Ipsos Strategic Marketing also suggested that almost two-thirds of respondents had far more positive attitudes about Russia than they did about the EU, the US, or NATO.

Two Serbian Army members will participate as observers until the end of this year in an exercise called Trident Juncture 2016 under the auspices of a NATO programme of military training and exercises.

Seven staff officers and up to 50 military police members will also participate in a regional exercise called Regex 16 which “can be put in the context of cooperation with NATO because it is being implemented with substantial financial support from the Alliance”, the ministry said.

In the field of bilateral military cooperation with the US, the Serbian Army has been involved in five military exercises organised by the European Command of the US Army, 16-04 Saber Junction, Platinum Wolf 2016, Platinum Eagle, Platinum Lion 16.4 and 17-01 Combined Resolve VII.

Before the end of the year, a US military exercise called Platinum Lion 17.1 will also be joined by 30 members of the Serbian Army.

Meanwhile in September and October, Serbia will host Russian Army troops in two separate exercises, Slavic Brotherhood 2016 and BARS 2016.

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