BELGRADE Dec 15 Serbia plans to bolster its
depleted air force in 2017 and purchase aircraft and equipment
from both Russia and the European Union, Prime Minister
Aleksandar Vucic said on Thursday.
Serbia is trying to balance its traditional relations with
Russia, a Slavic and Orthodox Christian nation, with a push to
join the European Union and for closer ties with NATO, though it
has no plans to join the Atlantic alliance.
The procurement in Russia would involve six donated MIG-29
figter jets with about two years of service life, with Serbia
financing their overhaul, Vucic told reporters in Belgrade.
He said that the total cost of the deal would be announced
ahead of his visit to Moscow for talks with Russian counterpart
Dimitry Medevedev slated for next week.
"We are planing to bring MIGs here by March and ... then to
extend their service life to 14 years," he said.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had flagged a
potential deal during a visit to Belgrade this week.
Serbia's military, including its air force, has an almost 80
percent reliance on Soviet technology, a legacy from the
now-defunct Yugoslav People's Army.
Wars of the 1990s depleted the air force, and its 1960s
MIG-21 fighters are no longer in service. Three of the more
sophisticated MIG-29s are also nearing end of service and the
country requires newer jets to patrol its air space.
Serbia's military budget for 2017 is set at 61 billion
dinars (494.31 million euros), equating to 1.39 percent of
Media reports of large-scale weapons purchases have followed
previous visits to Moscow by both Vucic and President Tomislav
On June 28 Vucic said that Serbia wanted to buy four MIG-29s
for about 260 million euros ($272.30 million), but so far only
two Russian Mi17 utility helicopters have been purchased for 25
Vucic said that Serbia also plans to buy an additional nine
aircraft produced by Airbus Helicopters, with another
four helicopters being donated.
He did not specify the exact type of helicopters, the time
frame for procurement nor the price. Several media reports have
indicated that Serbia could opt for the company's Super Puma
(1 euro = 123.4047 Serbian dinars)
($1 = 0.9548 euros)
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by David Goodman)