BELGRADE, Serbia — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday the Kremlin is ready to boost Serbia’s defense capabilities amid what his Serbian counterpart alleges is a threat from neighboring Croatia.
The statements came amid rising tensions between the two major Balkan rivals and former Yugoslav republics that were at war in the 1990s.
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic would visit Moscow later this month to discuss the donation of four MiG-29 jets and other unspecified military equipment.
Media reports said the jets were decommissioned by the Russian Air Force and need major repairs. Lavrov confirmed the visit, but refused to disclose details of a possible agreement.
Dacic said Serbia has to strengthen its armed forces in the wake of NATO’s arming of neighboring Croatia.
EU and NATO-member Croatia on Monday blocked one of three negotiating chapters Serbia hoped to open by the end of this year in its own EU bid. Vucic and the Serbian delegation immediately left Brussels in protest.
“If Croatia is the one to decide if Serbia will become an EU member, I have suddenly lost the interest,” Dacic said at a joint news conference with Lavrov.
Russia has opposed Serbia and other Balkan countries joining NATO and has been campaigning against their European Union accession efforts.
Serbia formally wants to join the EU, but has refused to join Western sanctions imposed on traditional Slavic ally Russia for its meddling in Ukraine.
“Serbia will never become an anti-Russian state and we will never join sanctions against Russia,” Dacic declared.