Russia Holds Drills in Serbia

Russia Holds Drills in Serbia
Russia Holds Drills in Serbia

Camouflage-clad Russian soldiers parachute from the sky, armored vehicles fire live rounds on an open field after being dropped from military transport jets and helicopters fire missiles against enemy positions.

It’s the first-ever joint Serb-Russian military exercise in Serbia, the Balkan country that has been performing a delicate balancing act in between its Slavic ally Russia and Western Europe, with which Belgrade wants to integrate, the AP reported.

The “anti-terrorist’ drill on Friday is the first such by the Russians outside the former Soviet Union - of elite Russian troops in northern Serbia, not far from NATO-member Croatia.

“Serbia’s government wants to try and keep everyone happy,” said prominent Balkan political analyst Tim Judah. “So, the US helps finance and modernize Serbia’s army while now Serbian soldiers train with Russians.”

Serbian officials have refused to impose sanctions against Russia like the EU and the US have. Russia and Serbia have traditionally close historic and cultural ties, and Moscow has backed Belgrade’s bid to maintain its claim over Kosovo - a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008 with the support of Washington and its allies.

“During our short stay in Serbia, we established the basis for expanding of our military relations,” said Russian Gen. Vladimir Shamatov.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Belgrade last month where he received a hero’s welcome that included a Soviet-style military parade. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, arrived in Belgrade on Friday.

Serbian Defense Minister Bratislav Gasic said he believes Serbian “neutrality” is tenable and defended holding the drill with the Russians.

“There are no secrets about this exercise,” he said after the drills that included a mock live-ammunition attack against a terrorist base with armored vehicles and about 200 troops, some deployed by Ilyushin IL-76 transport aircraft.

“We are militarily neutral and we would like to maintain good relations with everyone, including Russia, the European Union, the United States and China,” Gasic said, adding that Serbia - which has never been part of any Russian or Western military alliance - will also hold military drills with the Americans next month in Serbia.

In Washington, State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the military exercise regrettable.

“Although it is our understanding that this Russian-Serbian joint military drill had been planned for some time, we regret that Serbia decided to proceed. In light of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and its disregard of international law and norms, this is no time for `business as usual’ with Russia,” Psaki told The Associated Press.