South-Eastern Europe is concerned about the Russian Federation’s impending participation in military exercises that will be conducted in Serbia in September and October.
Former Ukrainian Ambassador to Croatia Markian Lubkivskyi, who is also the coordinator of Valentin Nalyvaychenko’s public movement “Justice” wrote on his blog on LB.ua that “At a time when Russia is escalating the situation with the Crimea, South-Eastern Europe is increasingly worrying. It is seriously concerned about the Slavic Brotherhood and Leopard-2016 military exercises…”
The exercises were the subject of discussion during the recent NATO summit in Warsaw. Concerns in this regard were expressed, in particular, by the President of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović.
"The fact that the Slavic Brotherhood exercise will be held at the Nikinci Testing Ground that is only 30 km from the Serbian-Croatian state border is of particular concern in the region. Besides, the fact that the airborne troops of the Russian Federation and special operations armed forces of Belarus are going to participate in addition to representatives of the Special Brigade of the Serbian Armed Forces, is worrying as well,” Lubkivskyi wrote.
According to him, these are the third joint Russian-Serbian military exercises, which will become a continuation of cooperation between the Russian Airborne Forces and the Special Brigade of the Serbian Army. The first exercises called SREM-2014 also took place in Serbia and the second took place near Novorossiysk last year.
"It is alarming that this is the first time when Croatian observers and military analysts discuss which types of weapons can resist the increasingly close military cooperation of Russia and Serbia. They speak of Kiowa helicopters, recently acquired German tanks, Patria armored vehicles which are in service of the Croatian Army, as well as two Guard Brigades," Lubkivskyi said.
He also expressed concern about another exercise called Bars-2016, which will take place on the territory and airspace of Serbia in October in the city of Niš and in Batajnica military airport in Belgrade. The exact time of the exercise is not known but it will depend largely on the weather conditions. The exercise will be carried out on aircraft of the Serbian Air Force and Air Defense. Russian and Serbian pilots will fly in mixed crews. The exercise will use mainly MiG-29 planes and the new Mi-17 helicopters that the Armed Forces of Serbia had recently acquired from Russia. For this purpose, more than two dozen Russian pilots will arrive in Serbia who, together with their Serbian colleagues, will practice the protection and control of the airspace and perform military tasks.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Belgrade is scheduled for the end of September. The signing of the agreement on the special status of Russian forces stationed in the city of Niš in southern Serbia is expected during this travel, added Lubkivskyi.