Serbia is struggling to balance relations with NATO, the European Union and its religious, ethnic and political alliance with Russia.
Serbia unveiled its new Chinese-made surface-to-air missile, flexing its military clout as Belgrade makes a delicate balancing act against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Chinese-purchased missile system, which was publicly displayed on Saturday, has raised concerns in the West and some of Serbia’s neighbors that an arms buildup in the Balkans could threaten the region’s fragile peace.
The public and the media were invited to display at the Batanica military airfield near Belgrade, where Chinese and French missiles lined up alongside helicopters, Chinese armed drones and Russian fighter jets.
“I’m proud of the Serbian army, I’m proud of the great progress that has been made,” said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who took part in the display, flanked by military commanders, who watched an aerobatics show, which included a Russian demonstration in An overhauled MiG-29 jet donated in 2017.
Vucic said the weapon system is not a threat, but a “strong deterrent” to potential attackers.
“We will no longer be allowed to be a punching bag for anyone,” Vucic said, apparently referring to NATO’s 78-day bombing of Serbia in 1999 for its bloody attack on Kosovar-Albanian separatists. Serbia fought its neighbors in the 1990s and did not recognize Kosovo’s independence, declared in 2008.
Relations between Belgrade and NATO members Croatia and Montenegro, as well as Bosnia, remained frosty, and Bosnia’s separatist Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik participated in a military display Saturday.
Although Serbia is officially seeking to join the European Union, it has largely armed itself with Russian and Chinese weapons, including T-72 main battle tanks, MiG-29 fighter jets, Mi-35 attack helicopters and drones.
The complex Chinese HQ-22 surface-to-air system, the export version of which is known as the FK-3, was delivered last month by a dozen Chinese Air Force transport aircraft in what is believed to be the largest airlift of Chinese weapons to Europe ever.
While Serbia voted in favor of a UN resolution condemning Russia’s bloody attack on Ukraine, Belgrade refused to join international sanctions on its ally in Moscow or outright criticize Russian troops for apparent atrocities in Ukraine.
Serbia is struggling to balance its relationship with NATO and its desire to join the European Union, given its centuries-old religious, ethnic and political alliance with Russia.