Serbia said Monday that it will purchase Russian combat jets in a move likely to add to tensions in the Balkans amid Moscow`s apparent efforts to prevent the volatile European region from joining Western institutions, according to ABCNews.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said he will travel to Moscow later this week to sign a deal that will include six MiG-29 fighters, which he says are needed ”to protect our freedom and sovereignty,” ABCNews reported.
Regional tensions have risen in the wake of an alleged election-day coup attempt in October by Serbian and Russian nationalists against Montenegro`s pro-Western government for its efforts to join NATO.
Serbian officials have said they need to boost the military to protect the country from an alleged threat from NATO-member Croatia, Serbia`s traditional foe that has split from the Serb-led Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Initially, Vucic said Russia will hand over the aging warplanes — decommissioned by the Russian air force — for free and that they would be delivered to Serbia by next March before undergoing major repairs to extend their service lives. Now he said Serbia will pay for them.
Vucic also said that he will additionally negotiate the purchase of Russian air defense rocket systems.
While in Belgrade last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow was keen to help Serbia boost its defense and discuss a free trade deal with the Eurasian Union, a Russian-led bloc of ex-Soviet states.
Any inclusion of Serbia into a pro-Russian fold would seriously jeopardize the integrity of southeast Europe after the bloody wars in the Balkans in the 1990s.