China supplies semi-secret missiles to Serbia

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Russia’s ally Serbia accepted the delivery of a sophisticated Chinese anti – aircraft system in a veiled operation over the weekend amid Western concerns that a build-up of weapons in the Balkans at the time of the war in Ukraine could threaten the fragile peace in the region.

Media and military experts said on Sunday that six Chinese air force Y-20 transport planes landed at Belgrade civilian airport early Saturday, allegedly with HQ-22 ground-to-air missile systems for the Serbian military.

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The Chinese cargo planes with military markings were pictured at Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport. Serbia’s Ministry of Defense did not immediately respond to the AP’s request for comment.

The arms delivery across the territory of at least two NATO member states, Turkey and Bulgaria, was seen by experts as a demonstration of China’s growing global reach.

“The appearance of the Y-20s raised eyebrows because they flew in abundance unlike a series of single-flight flights,” wrote The Warzone online magazine. “The Y-20’s presence in Europe in any number is also still a fairly new development.”

A Y-20 transport aircraft from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force will perform during the 12th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, also known as Airshow China 2018, in the city of Zhuhai in southern China on November 7, 2018.
(AP Photo / Kin Cheung, File)

Serbian military analyst Aleksandar Radic said that “the Chinese carried out their demonstration of power.”

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic almost confirmed the delivery of the medium-range system, which was agreed in 2019, and said on Saturday that he would present “the latest pride” from the Serbian military on Tuesday or Wednesday.

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He had previously complained that NATO countries, which represent most of Serbia’s neighbors, refuse to allow the system’s delivery flights over their territories due to tensions over Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Although Serbia has voted in favor of UN resolutions condemning the bloody Russian attacks in Ukraine, the country has refused to endorse international sanctions against its allies in Moscow or directly criticize the apparent atrocities committed by Russian troops there.

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In 2020, US officials warned Belgrade against the purchase of HQ-22 anti-aircraft fire systems, the export version of which is known as the FK-3. The United States said that if Serbia really wants to join the EU and other Western alliances, it must adapt its military equipment to Western standards.

A Y-20 transport aircraft from the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force will be displayed during the 12th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, also known as Airshow China 2018, November 6, 2018, in the city of Zhuhai, southern China.

A Y-20 transport aircraft from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force will be displayed during the 12th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, also known as Airshow China 2018, November 6, 2018, in the city of Zhuhai, southern China.
(AP Photo / Kin Cheung, File)

The Chinese missile system has been widely compared to the American Patriot and the Russian S-300 ground-to-air missile system, although it has a shorter range than more advanced S-300s. Serbia becomes the first operator of Chinese missiles in Europe.

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Serbia was at war with its neighbors in the 1990s. The country, which is formally seeking EU membership, has already strengthened its armed forces with Russian and Chinese weapons, including warplanes, tanks and other equipment.

US-manned Patriot missiles protect a nearby British and US air base in front of Kuwait's oil fields on March 16, 2003.

US-manned Patriot missiles protect a nearby British and US air base in front of Kuwait’s oil fields on March 16, 2003.
(REUTERS / Russell Boyce)

In 2020, it received delivery of Chengdu Pterodactyl-1 drones, known in China as Wing Loong. The combat drones are capable of hitting targets with bombs and missiles and can be used for reconnaissance missions.

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There are fears in the West that Russia’s and China’s armaments of Serbia could incite the Balkans into another war, especially against its former province of Kosovo, which proclaimed independence in 2008. Serbia, Russia and China do not recognize Kosovo’s state, while the United States and most western countries do.

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