The deal comes despite warnings from US President Donald Trump’s administration that Washington would impose crippling sanctions on Serbia should they decide to invest in the deadly weaponry. The US’ special envoy for the Western Balkans, Matthew Palmer told Macedonian TV: “We hope that our Serbian partners will be careful about any transactions of this kind.” Serbia will receive a Pantsir-S missile system, a short to medium range ground-based air defence system, wheeled, tracked or stationary with manned by two to three operators.
Its air defence consists of automatic anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles with radar or optical target-tracking and radio-command guidance.
The increasing influence of the Kremlin in Serbia will come as a concern to the EU, as the Balkan state has expressed a desire to join the bloc even though it has rebelled against NATO actions against Moscow, including refusing to support sanctions imposed after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
Putin has already overseen monstrous arms deals with the Balkan state, supplying various weapons for both ground and air combat, including fighter jets, attack helicopters and battle tanks.
The Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said in a state TV interview on Tuesday that Serbia has purchased the weapons from Moscow to evade any US sanctions “or confrontation with America”.
He added: “Serbia is arming itself because it is a free country surrounded by NATO-member states with which we want to be friends.”
The relationship between Moscow and Belgrade is raising security concerns in the Balkans, a key region for the EU and NATO.
This is something French President Emmanuel Macron has been all too aware of, and he subsequently showed resistance to two Balkan countries joining the EU last month.
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The Enlargement Commissioner of the EU Johannes Hahn has also expressed concerns about outside interference in the Balkans.
According to him, some states are borrowing heavily from China and it is not certain whether they will be able to repay. In that case, they may be vulnerable to Chinese dominance.
The situation in the Balkans is becoming increasingly complex, and Russian President Putin seems to have stamped another mark of authority in the region.