Chinese military plane flies to Nikola Tesla Airport
Six Chinese Air Force Y-20 transport planes landed at Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport on Saturday, according to media and military experts. They would have carried HQ-22 surface-to-air missile systems for the Serbian army.
Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic has all but confirmed the delivery of the medium-range system, saying on Saturday that he will present the new pride of the Serbian army on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Online magazine, The Warzone, said the appearance of the Y-20s raised eyebrows because they were flying en masse as opposed to a series of single-plane flights.
He described the presence of the Y-20 in Europe in numbers as a relatively new development, adding that it is “quite likely” that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force used the delivery to demonstrate its own airlift capability given NATO efforts to transport supplies and equipment for Ukraine’s war effort.
Serbia voted in favor of UN resolutions condemning Russian attacks in Ukraine, but refused to join international sanctions against Moscow.
China has sent a sophisticated anti-aircraft system to Serbia
The Kremlin said last week that Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed with Vucic expanding Moscow’s economic ties with Belgrade, including in the energy sector.
A statement from Mr Vucic’s office said he had briefed Putin on Serbia’s difficulties over crude oil imports, adding that he was confident that Gazprom Neft and its EU partners would find a solution.
The arms delivery over NATO members Turkey and Bulgaria was seen by experts as a demonstration of China’s growing global reach.
Aleksandar Radic, a Serbian military analyst, said the Chinese had carried out their show of force.
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Xi Jinping rides in an open-top car in front of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City during a parade
Aleksandar Vucic, President of Serbia, speaks during an election night
Mr Vucic had complained that NATO countries were refusing to allow system delivery flights over their territories amid tensions over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
US officials warned Belgrade in 2020 against purchasing HQ-22 anti-aircraft systems, the export version of which is known as FK-3.
They insisted that if Serbia wanted to join the EU, as well as other Western alliances, it had to bring its military equipment up to Western standards.
The Chinese missile system has been compared to the American Patriot and Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile systems.
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The most powerful armies in the world
However, it has a shorter range than the more advanced S-300s. It is believed that Serbia will be the first Chinese missile operator in Europe.
There are fears in the West that the arming of Serbia by Russia and China could encourage the Balkan country to war against its former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.
Serbia, Russia and China do not recognize Kosovo as a state, unlike the United States and a majority of Western countries.
News of the delivery comes after US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman warned last Wednesday that the sanctions imposed on Russia should give China a clear understanding of the consequences it could face if it provided material support. in Moscow.
Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping at a meeting in February
Ms Sherman told a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing: ‘It gives President Xi, I think, a pretty good understanding of what could happen to him if he actually supported Putin in any way. any material way.”
She said Beijing should learn the right lessons from the Western response to Ukraine that any attempt by China to take Taiwan by force would not be acceptable.
Ms. Sherman added: “We hope the [People’s Republic of China] understands that any such action would see a response from the international community, not just the United States. »
China has refused to condemn Russia’s action in Ukraine or call it an invasion and has criticized Western sanctions against Moscow.
However, a senior Chinese diplomat said last week that Beijing was not deliberately circumventing those sanctions.
Beijing and Moscow have developed increasingly close ties in recent years, including the announcement of a “limitless” partnership in February.