Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has downplayed Serbia’s armament buildup and called for the region to show understanding to the country’s strong ties with Russia.
Rama dismissed concerns over Serbia’s latest purchase of Chinese anti-aircraft missiles, noting that they were meant for defense purposes.
“I am not concerned about the said armament. I see no reason to be concerned now,” Rama told journalists during a press conference in Berlin on Monday. “I can’t see how a defensive anti-missile system could concern us,” he pointed out.
Last weekend Serbia became the first European country to receive the most sophisticated Chinese HQ-22 anti-aircraft system. The “semi-secret” delivery was reportedly carried out by six Chinese military planes.
The purchase was agreed to in 2019, and it was followed by warnings—gone unheeded—by the United States for Serbia to align its military equipment with that of the European Union which it wishes to join.
Serbia has beefed up its military capabilities with Russian fighter jets, helicopters, combat tanks, armored vehicles, as well as Chinese drones, anti-aircraft missile systems, and other heavy weapons in the last years.
The strongest Russian ally in Europe, Serbia has conducted joint military exercises with Russian troops in direct challenge to NATO and the United States.
Russian influence on Serbia and the latter’s military buildup has concerned its neighbors Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. Meanwhile, Serbia has easily resisted lenient calls by the European Union since 2014 to align its foreign policy with that of the union in its stance towards Russia, and instead of imposing sanctions it has strengthened ties with the Kremlin.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic initially decided not to condemn the Russian aggression on Ukraine, but then complained that international pressure had forced him to join a UN resolution condemning the aggression and the vote to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. Despite signing the two UN documents, Serbian leadership have yet to condemn the Russian aggression in public at home, where they praise ties with Russia.
It was precisely these two forced signatures under EU and US pressure that Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama praised again on Monday, reiterating his claim that Serbia is keeping the Western Balkans united in itself and with the West against Russian influence in the region.
“Serbia has made two extraordinary encouraging steps with its two votes in the UN. The fact that the Balkans are united in its stance towards Russia is really significant,” Rama stated.
He called on the public to show understanding towards Serbia and its deep historical relationship with Russia: “Serbia has a historical, traditional stance which is different from ours, and we were not waiting for the war in Ukraine to start in order to understand this. Things should be viewed in contexts and assessments should be made without forgetting the contexts.”
The Russian aggression against Ukraine has raised concerns of another possible conflict in the Western Balkans. Serbia has refused to recognize Kosovo since the latter declared independence in 2008 after two years of a bloody war waged by the Serbian genocidal regime in 1998-1999.