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Serbia, Russia to hold first joint military exercise

Russian airplane Ilusin 76

The first joint military training of Russian and Serbian army forces in the history of the two countries will be held this month in Serbia.

Six Ilyushin 76 transport aircraft landed Thursday near Belgrade, unofficial sources told RFE/RL, and they brought in combat vehicles and manpower for the training.

Russian air forces and Serbian land units will participate, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense.

The landing of the transport aircraft at Belgrade Military’s Batajnica Airbase, about 12 miles from the capital Thursday, confirms a report from the Russian news agency, TASS that Russian and Serbian military units will hold tactical anti-terrorist training called SREM-2014.

Bratislav Gasic, Serbia’s defense minister declined to discuss the military training, and said that all activities of the Ministry of Defense and Serbian Army are planned in advance.

"We have thousands of exercises all the time. Everything works according to our agreements with our partners from one country or another. We have more than 60 contracts on military-technical, military-educational and military cooperation. So there is nothing special here that could be considered as a sensation,”“ he told RFE/RL.

Russian air forces from Tula will participate in the training and the maneuvers will include maneuvers with combat vehicles, jumps from airplanes and the use of parachute systems.

Stevan Mirkovic, retired general of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) and one of the founders and the commander of the 63rd Parachute Brigade from Nis, told RFE/RL that he is not surprised:

“Well, it’s about time that our military finally starts exercising. They have done only some combat training for years, the release of hostages, judo etc. There was no serious training. There is no reason for fear since it is an ordinary routine training. And SREM is perfect for that because it has mountains, plains and rivers, and it will probably be a very good exercise."

Serbian Army officials recently told RFE/RL that these activities have nothing to do with the current situation in Ukraine but are a result of a defense cooperation agreement signed in 2010.

Ljubodrag Stojadinovic, a military-political analyst and former Yugoslav Army colonel said the training should not be given too much significance:

“Its importance is primarily in European cooperation when it comes to fighting terrorism. It does not imply any new pact or military alliance. It is only a cooperation that makes sense to prevent the negative phenomena of our time where the coordinated use of the special units from several countries is necessary."

The training comes under an agreement on military cooperation for 2014 and a joint training of military aircraft of the two countries has been announced for 2015.

However, Mirkovic said he thinks this cooperation has another important dimension:

“The eastern wind is blowing around here at the moment. And our state leadership, as a windmill, is turning us toward the east. And they call that pragmatic politics. Therefore, even in military matters we turned a bit more toward Russia than normally.”

In November 2013, Serbia and Russia signed an agreement on military-technical cooperation, which involves the exchange of information for the maintenance of peace, the development of relations in the field of cartography, as well as medical and military training.

Stojadinovic said he also believes that Russia is very interested in this military training.

“Moscow’s political message is that it has enough power to be present wherever there are Russian interests and that it has enough friends to cooperate with as well as enough military cooperation to engage with their armies in situations when the training is taking place. Such training as well as any kind of military show contains a message of power. And that is another important dimension of this training but it is not aggressive in itself.”

Serbia is a militarily neutral country but it is also a candidate for a Partnership for Peace agreement with NATO.

Mirkovic concludes that Serbian position of military neutrality could be compromised:

“Since the creation of the Russian emergency center in Nis and since the recent military parade in Belgrade a lot of things have changed when it comes to military. The army is not exclusively facing the West right now and it is using the resources of the East whenever it can. However, that cannot last long.”

The training of Russian paratroopers and Serbian military forces would be the first concrete step in the cooperation between the two forces in the past few years. The focus of planned activities of the Russian and Serbian forces, according to an announcement from the Ministry of Defense, will be in joint exercises and training.

Besides the cooperation with Russia, Serbia had joined training with the NATO member countries this year. International training called “Platinum Wolf 2014” was held in early July at the military base “Jug.” U.S, Bulgarian, Romanian, Azerbaijani, Macedonian and Croatian forces, along with those from Serbia, participated in multinational peacekeeping operations.