NewsSerbia's power play: Balancing West and East with strategic weapons purchases

Serbia's power play: Balancing West and East with strategic weapons purchases

BELGRADE, SERBIA - DECEMBER 25: Citizens stage a protest outside the central election commission building to protest election results in Belgrade, Serbia on December 25, 2023. (Photo by Filip Stevanovic/Anadolu via Getty Images)
BELGRADE, SERBIA - DECEMBER 25: Citizens stage a protest outside the central election commission building to protest election results in Belgrade, Serbia on December 25, 2023. (Photo by Filip Stevanovic/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Images source: © GETTY | Anadolu
4:33 AM EST, February 19, 2024

Weapons have been stocked up in Serbia over several years. The equipment arrives from many directions, with the purchases meticulously balanced to conform with a multi-vector policy. Recently, however, a significant amount of this weaponry has originated from Russia and China, notes Bielamowicz.

On Wednesday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic showcased the Repellent anti-drone system purchased from Russia, a deal he claimed was agreed upon "a long time ago". Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began, Belgrade hasn't signed any new agreements for weapon deliveries from Russia. But earlier acquisitions included an anti-tank system Kornet, the self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery missile system Pantsir-S1, and military helicopters. The Serbian Ministry of Defense has yet to disclose the costs of these contracts.

Also, the Serbian army received Chinese drones CH-95 and the Chinese air defense system FK-3. The value of the contracts for these Chinese weapons remains unknown.

According to the New Europe Institute's analyst, above and beyond acquiring vast amounts of military equipment, "the last decade of Vucic's rule has also involved strengthening the Serbian army's pride and sense of power".

"What we are dealing with recently is a proliferation of power projection communicating political messages based on arms and military," he further explains, emphasizing that these signals are intended for both international audiences and domestic citizens.

Serbia raises the stakes with weapon purchases

As per the expert, Belgrade's intention is to show the West that it's also establishing a military partnership with Eastern countries—China and Russia. "The West has invested significant political capital to court Serbia, especially after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but hasn't been successful yet," observes Bielamowicz.

"In my view, Serbia aims to dictate regional terms with these purchases," states the expert, underscoring that Washington is fully committed to preventing another conflict in the Balkans amidst many ongoing issues.

The expert adds that an integral aspect of understanding Serbia's defense emphasis lies in its relationship with Kosovo. He points out that Prishtina and Belgrade are both responding to each other's arms escalation.

Notable Serbian investments in the military

In January 2024, Washington approved Kosovo's request to acquire Javelin anti-tank missiles. Armend Muja, a party member of Kosovo's ruling party Self-Determination (Albanian: Vetevendosje) led by Albin Kurti, stated that the country purchased "one missile for every tank in Serbia's arsenal". "Serbia poses a threat to us by buying equipment from Russia and China. Their military investments have exceeded what was seen during Slobodan Milosevic's time," noted Muja then.

Interpreting the situation, Serbia's defense minister Milos Vuczevic said "everything Albanians receive is a threat to Serbia".

After NATO's military intervention in 1999, Serbia lost control over Kosovo due to the war in that country. Belgrade still refuses to acknowledge the independence declared by its former province in 2008. Jakub Bawołek

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