Daily: Serbia plans "several military exercises" with Russia

BELGRADE -- The Belgrade-based daily Danas is on Friday quoting unnamed sources who said that Serbia "plans to hold several military exercises with Russia."

Serbian and Russian soldiers are seen in Nikinci last fall (Tanjug, file)
Serbian and Russian soldiers are seen in Nikinci last fall (Tanjug, file)

This would take place despite the negative comments from the EU and the United States, the paper reported, and noted that last year's drills held in Serbia with the participation of Russia's Airborne Troops (VDV) also received criticism from the same quarters.

The article cites information obtained from "sources close to the Ministry of Defense and the Serbian Army," who said Serbia's foreign policy has not changed "despite the Ukrainian crisis and EU's demands to harmonize it with the European policy."

That is the reason military exercises with Russia are planned for this year as well, the daily quoted its sources.

However, "there is still no precise information about their number, date, or location, as programs are still being determined," writes Danas, and adds it was unofficially told by the Ministry of Defense and the Serbian Army that "a final agreement on the military exercises will be reached in the coming days."

The newspaper noted that Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic on Thursday met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, "a day after" Kerry spoke about Serbia being "in the line of fire" when it comes to relations between Washington and Moscow, and added that the conversation took place face to face.

"There has not been more precise information what they spoke about, in the context of Kerry's statement," the daily said, adding that Kerry during the "official part of the meeting" stressed that Serbia was taking on "an increasingly important role in many respects."

At the same time, Dacic told him that Serbia strives towards the EU and that its traditionally friendly relations with Serbia are "absolutely unrelated to its strategic orientation."

The newspaper reminded its readers that a recent report filed by EP rapporteur for Serbia Dacic McAllister, due to be adopted next month, expressed concern over the fact Serbia and Russia held joint military exercises at the height of the tensions between the EU and Russia, and that this remark was made "in the context of the call to Serbia to harmonize its foreign policy and introduce sanctions against Russia."

The first ever joint Serbian-Russian armed forces exercise was held in Nikinci northwest of Belgrade on November 14, 2014, and the daily said it was "interesting that information about this was kept secret, while the domestic public learned about it from the Russian Ministry of Defense."

"Although Serbian officials claimed that the information about the exercise was not secret, the fact it was not announced in the media in a timely manner was interpreted as the Serbian government's fear of receiving negative comments from the EU," Danas said, and added:

"Less than a month earlier Belgrade organized a military parade during Vladimir Putin's visit, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade, which was the subject of criticism of some western officials. In July last year Serbia held military maneuvers with NATO countries as well - members of the armed forces of the U.S, Bulgaria, Romania, Azerbaijan, Macedonia, and Croatia. During the fall the VS held a military exercise with the marine forces of the U.S. European command and four regional countries."