The first joint military drill of Serbia and NATO countries will take place in Serbia in October next year, and could be a political step forward in cooperation with the North Atlantic Alliance.
Although, Serbia, for the most part, complies with NATO standards while insisting on military neutrality, it is the military cooperation with Russia that is much more favoured by the Serbian public.
Serbia has participated in several NATO drills under the programme Partnership for Peace but mostly as an observer. The aforementioned drill, titled REGEX 18, is going to take place in Serbia for the first time ever – the Serbian Ministry of Defence confirms. The Ministry has refused to go into much detail about it, but foreign policy expert Bosko Jaksic says that the drill could re-launch the issue of the cooperation between NATO and Serbia.
“However, there is a big “if” in there. This could be a good opportunity for Serbia to show NATO that it is not an enemy, to remind NATO of the existence of the IPAP agreement and the collaboration under it, as well as to prove again that it is committed to the EU integration which don’t have to but could be tied to NATO. All in all, I think this is good news, but I am afraid that the Serbian authorities won’t know how to use it to their political advantage”, Jaksic adds.
The main reason for this does not lie in fear of what official Moscow might say, but in the animosity towards in NATO that exists in Serbia and which is fueled by political messages, following the Alliance’s bombing of Serbia in 1999.
“Russia uses heavy artillery, so to speak, to deter countries from cooperating with NATO and, in that respect, the Russian propaganda is much more efficient than the Serbian. If Serbia really wants to stick to this policy of military neutrality, than it should respect the balance between the two and underline both the advantages and flaws of the two courses (Russia and NATO). We should not be scared to say positive things about NATO”, Jaksic explains.
While Serbia persists on its military neutrality and is see-sawing between NATO (through Partnership for Peace), on one side, and Russia on the other, the joint activities with “friendly” Moscow are not that known in the public.
In the meantime, all of Serbia’s neighbours have either become NATO members or are about to.
“The cooperation with the Alliance has been progressing but under the radar and far from the public eye because our politicians are scared how is the public going to react at the mention of NATO. Hence, they have created an atmosphere whereby if you say you support NATO, you are branded a traitor, but if you say you support Russia, you are deemed a patriot”, Bosko Jakic adds.
(Radio Free Europe, 07.08.2017)
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