BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia will continue to source weapons from “friendly states” despite a looming threat of U.S. sanctions in the event of further such deliveries from Russia, the Serbian defense minister said Friday.
“Serbia is not a colony” and will decide for itself about “the strengthening and equipping of its armed forces,” Aleksandar Vulin said in a statement.
U.S. officials have spoken openly about introducing sanctions against Serbia if Moscow sends more arms to the country, especially those which could jeopardize the security of neighboring NATO-member states.
Serbia has recently received a sophisticated anti-aircraft system from Russia which has also provided fighter jets, attack helicopters and armored vehicles to the Balkan country.
Vulin, who is known for his pro-Russian stance, said the recent deliveries are for defensive purposes. He said there is no reason for sanctions from “any country which respects international law and Serbia's right to independently decide" how to arm itself.
Russia's arming of Serbia is watched with unease in the West and among its neighbors amid growing tensions in the Balkans which went through a devastating civil war in the 1990s. NATO intervened in Serbia to stop a bloody Serb crackdown against Kosovo Albanian separatists in 1999.
Despite formally seeking to join the European Union, Serbia’s populist leadership has further strengthened close political and military ties with Slavic ally Russia, as well as China.
Serbia has pledged to stay out of NATO and refused to join Western sanctions against Russia for its policies in Ukraine.