The visit of the Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu earlier this week to Belgrade attracted attention to the delivery of the “Panzer-C1” air-defense system. According to Serbian and Russian media, this was supposed to happen until February 22th.
The cargo is likely to be transported by air with only three possible routes – Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary. Hungary and Romania have denied access to their airspace of Russian military cargo planes.
Bulgaria has once again been picked by Moscow as the weak spot and has granted the necessary permit, raising concern of its long-term reliability as a partner.
Make no mistake – the decision is not made at the Ministry of Defense level – responsibility should rest solely with Prime Minister Borisov.
There is no doubt that Washington and NATO will have to respond. Sanctions are possible but are unlikely, at least in the immediate horizon, as the US is trying to project its role as an intermediary in the Serbia – Kosovo negotiations. Borisov’s government will add one more frustration to its long record of double bottom policy acts, involving the Turk Stream, the NPP Belene and a sequence of steps meant to appease Russia at the expense of NATO’s common policies.
There is no doubt that airborne arms deliveries that affect the balance of power in the region are a shared concern within NATO.
The problem stems not so much from the fact that Serbia is buying Russian lethal weapons, that enjoy the habit every now and then to shoot down civilian planes, but from the strategy behind this move by Moscow. The message from the visit of Minister Shoigu to Belgrade was that Serbia will continue to be Russia’s strategic outpost in a NATO region.
The country’s leadership is ready to buy new Russian weapons, including those that could seriously undermine regional security – such as the C-400.raws attention.
A recent article in the New York Times draws attention to the fact that the Panzer-C1 ends up in an “unstable” region in a delicate moment. Any new major arms shipments invoke a potential for a regional arms race. The accumulated arsenals in time tend to start firing on their own, notably when blended with an explosive mix of the region’s traditional ills – nationalism and chauvinism. In other words, the import of Russian weapons is likely to destabilize the area denoting a deliberate and premeditated act on the part of the Kremlin.
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The Serbian government is sending a worrisome sign of shifting priorities – instead of addressing security issues through negotiations and cooperation, including EU integration and NATO partnership programs, which allow countries to lower defense spending and redirect resources to economic and social ends, it resorts to buying expensive weapons systems, undermining confidence and resorting to past Great Power interplays.
The significance of the import of the air-defense complex “Panzer-C1”, should be judged against a set of destabilizing recent events in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Monte Negro, which have Serbia as a common denominator. It also implies that Belgrade regards its NATO member neighbors as opponents and a potential threat. This further leads to respective military offensive planning. Serbian Defense Minister Vulin, when receiving Russia’s gift of 6 MIG-29, said that the country’s military goal is to “achieve air superiority.”
Either later today or tomorrow Russian cargo planes carrying the Panzer-C1 system will fly over Bulgaria, confirming one of NATO’s greatest concerns – Bulgaria’s government has no intention of hampering or in any way blocking the Russia-Serbia strategic military, energy or political bridge. The Turk Stream is one more proof.
What a change from 1999 when Russia’s attempts to send to troops to the Prishtina airport were blocked by the Kostov government.
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