Serbia Joins US Military Drills in Germany

Serbian troops will participate in a multinational tactical exercise called ‘Combined Resolve VII’ organised by the US Army’s European Command at the Hohenfels military base in Germany from August 27 until September 15, the Serbian defence ministry told BIRN.

“The aim of the exercise is the improvement of the interoperability and mutual understanding of the members of the land forces of our partners in operations at the tactical level in a multinational environment,” the defence ministry said, adding that this kind of exercise is held by the US Army twice a year in Europe.

The Serbian Army will send no more than 100 troops, as it has done to several previous exercises in Hohenfels.

“The United States armed forces will bear the costs of travel, accommodation, meals, the use of training grounds and the other costs of our forces’ engagement during the planned conferences and exercises,” the defence ministry said.

Taking part in the exercises will be more than 3,100 participants from 20 countries - Italy, Armenia, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Ukraine, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Polish, Romania, Slovenia, Ukraine, Montenegro, Norway, France, Spain, the US and Serbia.

In September and October, Serbia will also host Russian Army troops in two separate exercises, Slavic Brotherhood 2016 and BARS 2016.

Although joint military exercises with Russia generate more public attention, Serbia’s most significant military cooperation is with the US.

Katarina Djokic, a researcher from the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, told BIRN that Serbia is trying to balance its military cooperation with both NATO members and Moscow, but military exercises with Russia are covered more widely by the media.

“Generally, cooperation is balanced. However, cooperation with Russia is in certain media more [often],” Djokic said.

According to defence ministry data, Serbia has 127 joint military activities planned with the US in 2016.

Defence Minister Zoran Djordjevic and Serbian Army Chief of Staff Ljubisa Dikovic said in a statement in March after meeting US Deputy Assistant Defece Secretary Michael Carpenter that “bilateral military cooperation is the most developed segment of the overall relations between the two countries”.

Serbia proclaimed a doctrine of military neutrality in December 2007 and the current government under Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has announced no plans to change the policy.

However, the country is linked to NATO through the alliance’s Partnership for Peace programme. In March 2015, Serbia concluded an Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO, considered the highest level of cooperation with NATO for a non-member country.

Opinion about NATO has been deeply divided in Serbia since the Western alliance launched air strikes against the former Yugoslavia during a 78-day bombing campaign in 1999, forcing Serbia to withdraw from Kosovo. Kosovo was then placed under international administration and declared independence in 2008.

Many Serbs remain bitter about the loss of the province, regarding it as the “cradle” of Serbian nationhood.

According to public opinion surveys conducted earlier this year, 80 per cent of Serbians are opposed to Serbian membership in NATO.

On the other hand, a opinion poll conducted in February in Serbia by the research company Ipsos Strategic Marketing suggested that almost two-thirds of respondents had far more positive attitudes about Russia than they did about the EU, the US, or NATO.

Nearly 74 per cent of the total number of respondents supported a potential alliance with Russia.