December 29, 2016 / 12:58 PM / 8 months ago

Serbia agrees to buy nine helicopters from Airbus

BELGRADE, Dec 29 (Reuters) - Serbia agreed on Thursday to buy nine helicopters from Airbus Helicopters to bolster its defences, part of a wider modernisation plan that also includes the procurement of aircraft and equipment from Russia.

Serbia's military, including its air force, was depleted during the wars of the 1990s and most of its existing aircraft are nearing the end of their lifetime.

Without specifying the price or timeframe for delivery, the Defence Ministry said in a statement the contract with Airbus was for the purchase of nine H145M light helicopters with spares and tools, to be used by both military and police.

Serbia's military budget for 2017 is set at 61 billion dinars (494 million euros), around 1.4 percent of national output.

The deal also involves a transfer of technology for maintenance of the aircraft and training for pilots and land crews.

"With this procurement, the Air Force as well as the Helicopter Unit of the Interior Ministry will be equipped with the latest generation of helicopters," the statement said.

Earlier this month, Russia donated six MIG-29 fighter jets to Serbia, on condition Belgrade pays for their overhaul. In June, Serbia also bought two Russian Mi17 utility helicopters for 25 million euros.

Serbia is balancing its relations with Russia, a traditional Slavic and Orthodox Christian ally, with a push to join the European Union and foster ties with NATO, though it wants to remain militarily neutral.

On Dec. 15, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said that in addition to the purchase of nine Airbus Helicopters aircraft, another four could be donated. (Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Mark Potter)

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