Balkans host rival exercises
Serbian troops at a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Source: Kremlin
Nato is staging a civil emergency exercise in Montenegro while Serbia, which was until 2006 part of the same country, is preparing for joint training with 150 Russian paratroopers.
Montenegro has angered Moscow as it moves closer to Nato and the EU.
There have also been arrests in Montenegro and Serbia over a suspected plot against Montenegro’s outgoing Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. Russia has been accused of involvement.
Members of Montenegro’s government have accused Russia of backing an alleged coup on election day early last month to topple the pro-western administration because of its Nato bid. Around 20 Serbs were arrested in Montenegro during the vote, suspected of trying to stage the coup, while Belgrade reportedly expelled an unspecified number of Russian operatives from Serbia.
A large amount of weaponry was found near the family home of Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on Saturday.
There are suspicions that the weapons were intended for an assassination attempt against Vucic, a pro-EU reformer, although he dismissed the theory.
Nato’s war games in Niksic reportedly claim to prepare for a major flood or chemical crisis. There are 680 participants, from 32 Nato members and its allies. Israel, Azerbaijan and Kosovo are involved.
The head of Moscow’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, visited Belgrade last week ahead of the military exercise, “Slavic Brotherhood 2016”. Belarus is also taking part.
Moscow’s defence ministry said the drill would include 150 Russian paratroopers, 50 air force staff and three transport planes.
The Russian military says the exercise will run until November 15.
Belgrade, however, has also developed ties with Nato, including joining the alliance’s Partnership for Peace programme.
Montenegro has been invited to join Nato, despite vocal opposition from the Kremlin, which also vehemently opposed deeper EU and Nato involvement in Belgrade.
Serbia is a Nato partner and has held exercises with the alliance, but not one on its own territory.
Nato’s bombing campaign of Serbia and Montenegro in 1999 and its invasion of Kosovo left a legacy of bitterness among many Serbs. Russia has exploited the anger by reviving centuries-old pan-Slavic patriotism.
Since splitting from Serbia in 2006, Montenegro has looked west and is expected to join Nato in early 2017 and the EU in approximately 2020.
Picturesque Montenegro has recently seen the arrival of Russian money, homebuyers and tourists.