|A Georgian soldier takes part in the joint multinational military exercise, called ‘Noble Partner 2018’, at the military base of Vaziani, outside Tbilisi, Georgia, 15 August 2018. Photo: EPA-EFE/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE|
Serbia is to host a NATO emergency situations exercise from October 8 to 11 in Mladenovac, near Belgrade, in which 30 countries will take part with about 1,000 participants.
“The aim of the exercise is to improve interoperability in international disaster response operations,” the NATO website said, adding that the exercise will simulate an earthquake situation.
“The scenario … provides an opportunity to practice international cooperation and strengthen the ability of teams from different nations to work effectively together across a wide range of relief operations,” NATO said.
The operations include urban search and rescue, medical and paramedical teams, chemical biological radiological nuclear protection, as well as decontamination teams and water rescue teams, it added.
Meanwhile, Serbian media have focused more on a new military deal between Serbia and China.
Deputy Defence Minister Nenad Miloradovic told Serbia’s Tanjug news agency on September 18 that Serbia had agreed to buy sophisticated weapons and military technology from China “which almost no country in its surroundings has”.
He said new combat drones will have the ability to scout, discover targets by day and at night, as well as the option of firing laser-guided bombs and rockets.
“That is capability that only the most capable militaries of the world have, which the Serbian Army will have now at its disposal,” Miloradovic added.
The agreed deal, he said, will also include industrial cooperation and technology transfer.
The Serbian Army recently displayed the MIG jets it received earlier as a donation from Russia. However, the Defence Ministry has had to spend millions on their modernization.
In April, Russia’s Tass agency reported that Serbia and Russia had agreed on Serbia’s procurement of the new weapons, including Mi-17 transport helicopters, T-72 tanks, BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles and other military hardware.
Serbia has also done military deals with Belarus this year.
On January 29, 2017 Defence Minister Zoran Djordjevic, visiting Belarus, said Belarus was willing to donate eight MIG 29 jets as well as Russian-designed missile systems. Serbian media reported in April that the aircraft are expected to arrive this year.
Serbian military experts believe the military upgrade forms part of attempts by the government to show a largely pro-Russian population that Serbia is deepening its ties with its old ally, Moscow.
The aim of the October NATO exercise meanwhile matches the official purpose of the controversial Russian Humanitarian Centre in the southern Serbian city of Nis.
The centre insists that it exists only to provide “emergency humanitarian responses, [help] prevent natural disasters and [address] technological accidents and the elimination of their consequences”.
Some Western governments have voiced deep unhappiness about its work, however, fearing that it has other purposes, such as espionage, linked to Russia’s foreign policy in the Balkans.
Serbia proclaimed a doctrine of military neutrality in December 2007 and the current government has announced no plans to change the policy.
However, Serbia remains linked to NATO through the alliance’s Partnership for Peace programme, PfP.
In March 2015, Serbia concluded an Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO, considered the highest level of cooperation with NATO for a non-member country.
Opinion about NATO has divided in Serbia since the alliance launched air strikes against the former Yugoslavia during a 78-day bombing campaign in 1999, forcing Serbia to withdraw from Kosovo.
Kosovo was then placed under international administration and declared independence in 2008. Many Serbs remain bitter about the loss of the province, regarding it as the “cradle” of Serbian nationhood.
According to public opinion surveys, a large majority of Serbs are opposed to the country joining NATO.