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Serbia officially showcased a freshly supplied Chinese anti-aircraft missile system on April 20, prompting fears in the West and among some of Serbia’s neighbors that an armaments buildup in the Balkans may jeopardize the region’s fragile peace.

A dozen Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force Y-20 cargo planes recently transported the advanced HQ-22 surface-to-air system in what was thought to be the largest-ever airlift transfer of Chinese armaments to Europe.

Although Serbia officially pursues EU membership, it has mostly armed itself with Russian and Chinese armaments, such as T-72 battle tanks, MiG-29 fighter planes, Mi-35 attack helicopters, and drones.

In 2020, US authorities cautioned Belgrade against acquiring HQ-22 missile systems, known as FK-3 in their export variant. According to them, if Serbia truly wishes to join the EU and other Western alliances, it must match its military equipment with Western norms.

Although it has a lesser range than more sophisticated S-300s, the Chinese missile system has been frequently likened to the American Patriot and the Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile systems. Serbia is Europe’s first operator of Chinese missiles.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vui stated at the conclusion of an armaments exhibition at a military airfield in Belgrade that the Chinese missiles, together with other newly arrived military gear, pose no threat to anybody and merely serve as a “strong deterrence” against possible attackers.

“We will no longer allow to be a punching bag for anyone,” Vučić said, apparently referring to NATO’s 78-day bombardment of Serbia for its bloody crackdown against Kosovo Albanian separatists in 1999.

Serbia, which was at war with its neighbors in the 1990s, refuses to recognize Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008. It is still at odds with NATO allies Croatia and Montenegro, as well as Bosnia, whose separatist Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik attended the military rehearsal.

Vui also stated that Serbia is in talks to acquire French multifunctional Dassault Rafale planes as well as British Eurofighter Typhoon fighters. Only “political obstacles,” he claimed, could hinder the procurement of the Western aircraft.

There are widespread fears that Russia would provoke its partner Serbia into an armed confrontation with its neighbors in order to divert public attention away from the situation in Ukraine.

Although Serbia has voted in support of United Nations resolutions condemning Russia’s deadly operations in Ukraine, it has declined to join international sanctions against its friends in Moscow or to openly denounce the alleged atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.

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