Russian ally Serbia took delivery of a sophisticated Chinese anti-aircraft system in a veiled operation over the weekend, amid fears in the West that a buildup of weapons in the Balkans at the time of the war in Ukraine only threatens the fragile peace in the region.
Media and military experts said on Sunday that six Chinese Air Force Y-20 transport planes landed at Belgrade Civil Airport early Saturday, carrying HQ-22 surface-to-air missile systems for the Serbian army.
Chinese cargo planes bearing military markings were photographed at Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade. The Serbian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to AP’s request for comment.
The delivery of arms to the territory of at least two NATO member states, Turkey and Bulgaria, has been seen by experts as a demonstration of China’s growing global reach.
“The appearance of the Y-20s raised eyebrows because they flew en masse as opposed to a series of single-plane flights,” wrote online magazine The Warzone. “The presence of the Y-20 in Europe in numbers is also still a fairly new development.”
Serbian military analyst Aleksandar Radic said “the Chinese made their show of force”.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has all but confirmed delivery of the agreed-upon medium-range system in 2019, saying on Saturday that he will present “the latest pride” of the Serbian military on Tuesday or Wednesday.
He had previously complained that NATO countries, which represent most of Serbia’s neighbors, were refusing to allow system delivery flights over their territories amid tensions over the aggression of Russia against Ukraine.
Although Serbia has voted in favor of UN resolutions that condemn the bloody Russian attacks in Ukraine, it has refused to join in international sanctions against its allies in Moscow or outrightly criticize the apparent atrocities committed by Russian troops there. -low.
In 2020, US officials warned Belgrade against purchasing HQ-22 anti-aircraft systems, the export version of which is known as FK-3.
They said that if Serbia wanted to join the European Union and other Western alliances, it should bring its military equipment up to Western standards.
The Chinese missile system has been widely compared to the American Patriot and Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile systems, although it has a shorter range than the more advanced S-300s. Serbia will be the first operator of Chinese missiles in Europe.
Serbia was at war with its neighbors in the 1990s. The country, which is officially seeking EU membership, has already reinforced its armed forces with Russian and Chinese weapons, including fighter jets, battle tanks and other equipment.
In 2020, it took delivery of the Chengdu Pterodactyl-1 drones, known in China as Wing Loong. Combat drones are capable of hitting targets with bombs and missiles and can be used for reconnaissance tasks.
There are fears in the West that the arming of Serbia by Russia and China could encourage the Balkan country towards another war, in particular against its former province of Kosovo which declared its independence in 2008.
Serbia, Russia and China do not recognize Kosovo’s statehood, unlike the United States and most Western countries.