US threatens Serbia with sanctions over S-400 purchase
Washington is threatening Serbia with sanctions to stop the country from buying Russia's advanced S-400 air defense missile systems.
Published: November 13, 2019, 6:46 am
The controversy was ignited on Wednesday when Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told a public television broadcaster in an interview that he wanted to buy the S-400 but did not have the funding to do so. “Serbia was ready to accept S-400s from Russia as a gift,” he said, according to TASS.
“You know, when you have such a weapon, no one would attack you. Neither US nor any other pilots fly where S-400s are operational: Israeli pilots do not fly either over Turkey or Syria, except for the Golan Heights. We have aviation, which the strongest than ever before. We will be strengthening the air defense with Pantsyr systems and other things, which are not on the sanctions list,” Vucic said in the interview.
Vuvic explained that he had attended the Slavic Shield-2019 Russian-Serbian drills in order to personally inspect the Russian systems and view their capabilities, which included Pantsyr-S anti-aircraft missiles.
Serbia is currently the only country in the Western Balkans without the desire to join NATO even though it joined its Partnership for Peace program in 2015.
Serbs also generally consider the US-NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 illegal in terms of international law, especially the breakaway Kosovo which was established as a republic under the Bush administration.
A Serbian media outlet reported that Belgrade was considering the purchase of the S-400 anti-air systems on long-term credit. It is rumoured that Serbian officers have begun training on the systems.
According to TASS, the reports have angered Washington with US diplomats issuing threats and intervention. US Special Representative for the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer warned in an interview with the Macedonian television during his visit to Skopje that the purchase of S-400 systems from Russia would lead to US sanctions against Belgrade.
Reuters reported that Palmer was dispatched to pressure Serbian authorities saying that Serbia could face punishments ranging from visa bans to denial of export licenses.
President Vucic dismissed the threats however, telling Serbs “not to fear broad sanctions would be imposed on Serbia similar to those of the 1990s during the Balkan wars,” according to Reuters.
Washington has frantically been trying to prevent countries from buying Russian S-400s and its next generation S-500, especially after NATO-member Turkey decided to acquire the system.
But Serbian officials expressed hope on Friday that the US would not punish them with sanctions.
Last week, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said his country had “nothing to hide,” after Thomas Zerzecki, an envoy for the US State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, warned Belgrade. Zerzecki did not address the media. However, the US Embassy in Belgrade denounced “transactions with Russia that risk triggering sanctions”.
But according to Dacic, Serbia is pursuing a course of military neutrality between Russia and the West.
“We have no intention to create any problems in our relations with the United States,” Dacic said. “On the other hand, we have our own interests when it comes to the defense of our territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
The US Embassy denied in a separate statement that the purpose of the visit Zerzecki was to announce a decision on sanctions. “The United States welcomes the transparency exhibited by the Serbian government with regard to its intentions and activities,” the statement issued said as quoted by The Associated Press.
Serbia’s defence ministry has meanwhile been promoting a new book titled, Tuzla Gate: a staged tragedy, which exposes the fact that on May 25, 1995, Bosnian Serb forces were not responsible for the massacre of civilians.
The book, written by Ilija Brankovic, a former general of the Yugoslav People’s Army, was launched at the Central Military Club in Belgrade, owned by Media Centar Odbrana, the publishing and press centre of Serbia’s defence ministry, according to Al Jazeera.
Brankovic, the author of the book, revealed that the Gate area of Tuzla was not shelled, but destroyed by an explosive device pre-planted by third parties.
“Any attempt at a different view of the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a big crime if it comes from Serbs,” the ministry said in a statement published on its website.
“The ministry of defence will not consent to this and that’s why [we’ve] allowed the author of the book and people who participated in researching the whole case to express their opinion. Many times Serbs have been and still are victims of double standards and [are often] tried for crimes of others. Serbia will not ban books. This is a tradition of some other nations.”
In August, French President Emmanuel Macron signed 22 bilateral agreements, as well as letters of intent during his visit to Serbia. While the French president has been recalcitrant on EU enlargement in general, and on blocking accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, he appears to have a different view on Serbia joining the EU.
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