Serbia buys Chinese missiles: Europe's Russian connection


 | Updated: May 01, 2022, 04:39 PM IST

Amid the Ukraine war, Serbia has confidently displayed its new Chinese-made surface-to-air missiles and other military hardware purchased from both Russia and the West.

Serbia buys Chinese-made surface-to-air missiles

Amid the Ukraine war, Serbia has confidently displayed its new Chinese-made surface-to-air missiles and other military hardware purchased from both Russia and the West, as the country seeks to perform a delicate balancing act over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Members of the public and the media were invited to the display at the Batajnica military airfield near Belgrade, where Chinese and French missiles were lined up beside Airbus helicopters, Chinese-armed drones and Russian MIG-29 jets.


Chinese FK-3 surface-to-air defence system

Serbia is striving to balance its partnership with NATO and aspirations to join the European Union with its centuries-old religious, ethnic and political alliance with Russia.

The Chinese FK-3 surface-to-air defence system, similar to Russia's S-300 or the US Patriot system, was purchased by Belgrade in 2019 and delivered earlier this month.

Serbia is currently the only European country to operate the Chinese missile system and CH-92A combat drones.


British airborne early warning radar on Chinese surveillance aircraft

Reports claim Russia and Israel have exported weapons to China earlier. The EU had earlier imposed an arms embargo on China after the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. However, European countries ensured they could use the dual use technology loophole to do business with China.

A report listed the following European arms equipment being used by China which included French sonar, anti-submarine warfare helicopters on Chinese destroyers, French and German diesel engines on surface warships, British jet engines on PLA fighter bombers.

The list also included British airborne early warning radar on Chinese surveillance aircraft, Eurocopter designs for attack and transport helicopters and German-engineered diesel engines from MTU Friedrichschafe on large numbers of the Chinese submarine fleet.

The sale of components ensured European arms companies continued to do brisk business with the Communist nation.

In fact a report claimed earlier that European Union countries granted 922 licenses to sell $259 million worth of weapons to Russia in 2012. 


France-Russia ties: Mistral - 'Swiss army knife'

In a controversial move France had agreed in 2011 to build and sell the two advanced helicopter assault ships to Russia with the first one scheduled for delivery in the same year and the second in 2015. France’s naval industry considers the Mistral one of its engineering jewels, with the navy dubbing the ship the “Swiss army knife”.

It is designed to carry as many as a dozen assault helicopters, 60 armoured vehicles and a dozen tanks. It can also host up to 700 troops and has a full hospital on board.

However, former President François Hollande later declared that a deal had been reached with President Vladimir Putin to pay Russia compensation for cancelling the delivery of two French Mistral warships after Russia invaded Crimea in 2014.

The fate of the two Mistral helicopter carriers weighed heavily on France-Russia ties for more than a year, following Paris's decision to delay the $1.3 billion deal as the West slapped sanctions on Moscow over its annexation of Crimea and the Kremlin's alleged backing for separatist rebels in Ukraine.


Russia main arms supplier to Serbia

President Aleksandar Vucic toured Saturday's display flanked by military commanders and watched an aerobatics show featuring overhauled MIG-29 jets donated by Russia in 2017.

The delivery of the FK-3 missile system prompted several Western countries, including Germany, to warn Belgrade it expected the Balkan country to align its foreign policy with the EU if it wanted to become a member.

Belgrade has voted against Russia three times at the United Nations but stopped short of imposing sanctions against it.

Serbia's military is loosely based on ex-Soviet technology and Russia is one of its main suppliers. Belgrade is also dependant on natural gas and oil supplies from Russia.


Europe saw the world's biggest rise in arms imports

Vucic said Serbia expects to purchase 12 Rafale multipurpose fighter jets from France by the end of the year or early next year, a move seen by political analysts as a sign of Belgrade distancing itself from Russia.

He said Serbia is also negotiating to buy 12 Typhoon combat aircraft from Britain.

According to a report, Europe saw the world's biggest rise in arms imports in the past five years, a trend set to accelerate following recent rearmament commitments amid the threat posed by Russia.

While arms exports declined globally by 4.6 percent in 2017-2021 compared to the preceding five years, Europe posted a 19 per cent increase, according to a study published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).


Europe ramps up military spending

Germany in particular has already announced plans to up its military spending, as have Denmark and Sweden. Europe's share of the global arms trade has already risen from 10 to 13 percent in the past five year.

According to SIPRI, Asia and Oceania remained the main importing region over the last five years, home to 43 percent of arms transfers and six of the world's largest importers: India, Australia, China, South Korea, Pakistan and Japan.

According to SIPRI, the five largest arms exporters in 2016–20 were the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China who together accounted for 76 per cent of all exports of major arms in 2016–20.


US leads in arms export

When it comes to exporting countries, the US leads the pack with 39 percent.

Russia remains in second place, though its share has fallen to 19 percent over the past five years, largely due to declining imports by China, which is now almost completely independent of Russian arms.

France is the third largest exporter with 11 per cent, while China and Germany held onto their fourth and fifth spots with 4.6 and 4.5 per cent respectively.