BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s president on Monday praised another shipment of arms from Russia despite fears in the Balkans that the country’s recent military buildup could lead to more tensions in the war-scarred European region.
President Aleksandar Vucic 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,” Vucic 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, ” Vucic said.
Serbia has frequently been accused of saber-rattling and working with Slavic ally Russia to destabilize neighboring Bosnia, Montenegro and Kosovo, a former Serbian province which declared independence in 2008.
Serbia is widely blamed for triggering a bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s with its nationalist policies. The country lately 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 armored personnel carriers. Serbia has also recently purchased sophisticated Russian Pantsir air defense systems, as well as attack and transport helicopters and Chinese drones.
Although formally seeking European Union membership, Serbia has refused to align its foreign policies 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 “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 new member admitted into the bloc.
Croatia, which is also a member of NATO, is 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 announced the purchase of 12 Rafale fighter jets from France.