BELGRADE, Serbia ( Associated Press) – Serbia publicly demonstrated a recently delivered Chinese anti-aircraft missile system on Saturday, raising concerns among some of Serbia’s neighbors in the West and that weapons build-up in the Balkans could threaten the region. Peace may be at risk.
The refined HQ-22 surface-to-air system was delivered last month by a dozen Chinese Air Force Y-20 transport aircraft, in what was believed to be the largest airlift delivery of Chinese weapons to Europe so far.
Although Serbia officially seeks membership in the European Union, it is armed with mostly Russian and Chinese weapons, including T-72 battle tanks, MiG-29 fighter jets, Mi-35 attack helicopters and drones.
Back in 2020, US officials warned Belgrade against buying the HQ-22 missile system, the export version of which became known as the FK-3. He added that if Serbia really wanted to join the European Union and other Western alliances, it would have to align its military equipment with Western standards.
The Chinese missile system has been widely compared to the American Patriot and Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile systems, although its range is less than the more advanced S-300. Serbia is the first operator of Chinese missiles in Europe.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said at the end of a weapons display at a military air base near Belgrade that Chinese missiles, as well as recently delivered military hardware, pose no threat and only a “powerful deterrent” against potential attackers. represent.
“We will no longer allow anyone to be a punching bag,” Vucic said, referring to NATO’s 78-day bombing of Serbia in 1999 for bloody crackdown on Kosovo Albanian separatists.
Serbia, which was at war with its neighbors in the 1990s, does not recognize the independence of Kosovo, declared in 2008. It still has cold ties with NATO-members Croatia and Montenegro, as well as Bosnia, whose separatist Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodi took part in military exercises. on Saturday.
Vucic said Serbia is also negotiating the purchase of French multi-role Dassault Rafale jets as well as British Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets. He added that only “political constraints” could prevent the purchase of Western aircraft.
There are widespread concerns that Russia may push its ally Serbia into armed conflict with its neighbors in an attempt to at least partially divert public attention from the war in Ukraine.
Although Serbia has voted in favor of UN resolutions that condemn bloody Russian attacks in Ukraine, it has outright criticized its involvement in international sanctions against its allies in Moscow or the apparent atrocities committed by Russian troops in Ukraine. has refused.