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News 21 Dec 16

Serbian PM Visits Moscow to Agree Arms Deal

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic will meet Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu in Moscow about an agreement to acquire fighter planes and other military equipment, although details of the deal are unclear.

Milivoje Pantovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov (on the left) with Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic (on the right). Photo: Beta/Milos Miskov

Vucic started his visit to Moscow on Wednesday to agree the arms deal with Russia, which will see Serbia acquire six MiG-29 fighters and an unknown quantity of other military equipment, his office said.

BIRN contacted the Serbian Defence Ministry for information on the arms deal with Russia but did not get a reply by the time of publication.

Aleksandar Radic, an expert on military issues, told BIRN that Serbia should acquire planes from Russia since Moscow’s price is best for the country’s budget.

“There is no other way to secure the continuity of the training of the pilots from the 101st Fighter Squadron and to maintain the air defence system,” said Radic.

However, he said the cost of maintaining the MiGs and training the pilots will run into tens of millions of euros per year, which could stretch the budget.

“In a purchase like this, not only the tactical characteristics of the plane are evaluated but also [the country’s] political orientation, the economy and plans for further development and so on. This is an attempt to buy time for the next decade when Serbia should finally choose new planes,” he said.

Former defence minister and leader of opposition Democratic Party, Dragan Sutanovac, told BIRN that a good reason to acquire the MiGs is that the Serbian army is familiar with planes made in Russia.

“However, this is very old type of plane, it is even out of use in Russia. These planes are already about 30 years old and their [potential length of use] is maximum 10 years, even with repairs. That means that in couple of years, Serbia should acquire new machines,” Sutanovac said.

He argued that a better solution would be if Serbia bought fewer but newer planes, which would reduce costs in the long run.

“It is confusing why the details of the deal are not revealed. We do not know what other military equipment will be acquired from Russia and at what cost,” he said.

“What concerns me is that when we read most of the press in Serbia, it seems like Serbia is preparing for another war with its neighbours, which is nonsense, since most of them are members of NATO,” he added.

Vucic’s visit to Moscow was agreed at the beginning of the December while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in Belgrade.

At a press conference during Lavrov’s visit, his Serbian counterpart, Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, announced that Belgrade would get “arms donations” from Russia.

“Serbia has asked Russia to donate arms, including MiG 29 planes. Since we have asked for them as donations, Serbia will pay only for the adaptation of those arms for Serbia's needs,” Dacic said.

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