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Brussels Attentive to Serbia, Russia Exercises

Serbian paratroopers descend to the ground holding Serbian and Russian (L) national flags during a training exercise in the village of Nikinci, west from Belgrade, November 14, 2014

Joint military exercises of Serbia, Russia and Belarus, planned for Russia in August and September, are under the West’s magnifying glass.

The exercises, named “Slavic Brotherhood,” coupled with a suggestion by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, for additional joint military exercises have provoked a response from the EU.

Analysts note that even the restrained approval of limited participation in such exercises has evaporated and that Brussels is now reminding Belgrade of its obligations to align its stance with EU foreign policies.

After a meeting of Shoigu and Serbian Defense Minister Bratislav Gasic in Moscow,where they discussed joint military exercise of land and air forces, as well as “Slavic Brotherhood 2015”, Maja Kocinijancic, spokesperson for the European Commission said.

“In current circumstances, such military exercise would send a wrong signal,” she said.

Military analyst Aleksandar Radic noted that the West had quietly acquiesced to Serbian participation in the first Russian-Serbian military exercise in November of last year near Ruma in Serbia, and he said that the reason for this year’s disapproval might be the proposal for even further military exercises in 2016.

Radic said that Serbia’s Western allies are concerned because Serbia has pronounced itself dedicated to joining the EU, and that there are precise steps in the security sector that Serbia must follow.

He said: “I believe the problem arose because of the announcements of plans for the next year, because when you hint that the cooperation is going to increase, you no longer can say it was planned beforehand.”

It is clear, Radic concluded, that Brussels now wants to remind Serbia that it has some obligations that come with its aspirations to become an EU member, and that means aligningits foreign policy with EU stances.

That was underscored by Kocijancic, who said that Serbia is expected to “act in accordance with its obligations towards the EU and the accession process”.

The Serbian Defense Ministry responded that the activities Serbia is involved in are “not even close to the level of cooperation by other partners”.

The Ministry also stated that when it comes to the military cooperation, it had developed the most cooperation with the US and the EU countries.

In November last year, when the Serbian-Russian military exercise titled ‘Srem 2014’ was held in ‘Jug’ base near Bujanovac, members of the US Army, Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia and Romania in an exercise titled ‘Platinum Wolf 15’.

According to media reports, Serbia has planned two military exercises with Russia this year, as well as several exercises with NATO forces. During the meeting in Moscow, Shoigu proposed holding joint tactical exercise of special air forces in 2016.

But that suggestion brought the warning and the scrutiny of Serbia’s participation, largely due to increasing tensions between the West and Russia.

Serbia’s participation, says Aleksandra Joksimovic, Director of Serbia’s Foreign Policy Center, an NGO designed to be independent, comes at the same time Serbia is asking to join the EU. And the West, she said, expects Serbia to align its foreign and security policy with EU stances.

“It is true that Serbia has made significant progress in its cooperation with NATO by signing the IPAP (Individual Partner Action Plan) and through different types of cooperation, including cooperation with the US Army, especially military cooperation. But it is still evident that any form of cooperation with Russia, especially military cooperation, is frowned upon. The more that relations between Russia and the West deteriorate, the more Serbia will be expected toharmonize [its policy] with all the EU measures,” Joksimovic said.

Belgrade has resisted following EU foreign policy when it comes to sanctions imposed against Russia after the Crimea annexation, and its leaders have said,on several occasions, that they do not plan to join the sanctions. Until now, the West has been more restrained in its reaction to Serbia’s delicate stance of balancing between the West and Russia.

[B1]I could not identify which aleksandar radic this was, so I will depend on your help. rls

[B2]I am reading this into the text. if it is to be by, please change. rls

[B3]I find this spelled also as bugdanovac—please make it right. tnx, rls

[B4]this russ/serb, or more countries included. the sense of the piece, following the array of joint exercises of all type, can too easily be read that Shoigu is suggesting including NATO—is he?…..rls

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    Ljudmila Cvetković

    Novinar sa diplomom Fakulteta političkih nauka u Beogradu. Radno iskustvo sticala u Asocijaciji nezavisnih elektronskih medija i Radiju B92. Na RSE radi kao novinar, uređuje i vodi dnevne informativne emisije.