BELGRADE, Serbia (Associated Press) – Russia’s ally Serbia took delivery of an advanced Chinese anti-aircraft system in a covert operation this weekend, amid Western concerns that a wartime stockpile of weapons in the Balkans in Ukraine could threaten the fragile region. Peace in the region.
Six Chinese Air Force Y-20 transport planes landed at Belgrade civilian airport early on Saturday, reportedly carrying HQ-22 surface-to-air missile systems for the Serbian army, media and military experts said on Sunday.
Pictures of Chinese cargo planes bearing military markings were taken at Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade. The Serbian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment.
Experts considered the delivery of weapons over the territory of at least two NATO member states, Turkey and Bulgaria, as evidence of China’s growing global reach.
“The emergence of the Y-20s raised eyebrows because they flew en masse rather than a series of single-aircraft flights,” wrote The Warzone online magazine. “Having Y-20 in Europe in any numbers is still a fairly new development.”
“The Chinese carried out their show of force,” said Serbian military analyst Aleksandar Radic.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic confirmed the delivery of the medium-range system agreed in 2019, saying on Saturday that it would present “the latest pride” to the Serbian military on Tuesday or Wednesday.
He had earlier complained that NATO countries, which represent most of Serbia’s neighbours, were refusing to allow regime delivery flights over their territory amid tensions over Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
Although Serbia voted in favor of United Nations resolutions condemning Russia’s bloody attacks in Ukraine, it refused to join international sanctions against its allies in Moscow or to criticize the apparent atrocities committed by Russian forces there.
In 2020, US officials warned Belgrade against purchasing HQ-22 anti-aircraft systems, the export version of which is known as the FK-3. They said that if Serbia really wants to join the European Union and other Western alliances, it should harmonize its military equipment with Western standards.
The Chinese missile system has been widely compared to the US Patriot and Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile systems although its range is shorter than the more advanced S-300 systems. 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, is beefing up its armed forces with Russian and Chinese weapons, including warplanes, battle tanks and other equipment.
In 2020, it received the Chengdu Pterodactyl-1 drone, known in China as Wing Loong. Drones are capable of hitting targets with bombs and missiles and can be used for reconnaissance missions.
There are fears in the West that Russia and China arming Serbia could encourage the Balkan country to fight another war, especially against the former province of Kosovo that declared independence in 2008. Serbia, Russia and China do not recognize the state of Kosovo, while the United States and most Western countries do.
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