Leaked document says Russian ally Serbia sends arms to Ukraine

A leaked US intelligence document lists Serbia as a country that has sent or is ready to send lethal aid to Ukraine, a revelation likely to create tension between Russia and the Balkan nation, a close partner for centuries .

The document, dated March 2 and part of a trove of secret information leaked online, included a chart that places Serbia in a group of European nations that refused to provide training to the Ukrainian military but “provided or has pledged to provide lethal aid”. “The existence of the painting, which was seen by the New York Times, was first reported on Wednesday by Reuters.

Unconfirmed reports in Russian media said Serbian arms and ammunition had found their way into Ukrainian armories, prompting Moscow last month to demand an official explanation and warn President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia that the arming Ukraine was a “serious matter” that could damage relations. between the two nations.

Serbia on Wednesday denied sending military equipment to Ukraine, as it did in March when pro-Kremlin Russian media reported on the covert military aid and the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its “deep concern” about this information.

Experts say the biggest question is less whether the Serbian weapons ended up in Ukraine’s hands than whether Mr Vucic’s government orchestrated their delivery – or whether it was done without the government endorsement by foreign arms dealers working with Serbs inside an arms industry notorious for corruption and cutbacks.

Serbia has a large arms industry and produces artillery shells and other items compatible with Ukraine’s weaponry, mainly from the Soviet era.

Serbian Defense Minister Milos Vucevic on Wednesday called the US intelligence document fake, saying that “Serbia has not sold arms and will not sell arms to the Ukrainian or Russian side, or to countries surrounding this conflict.

Another Slavic nation tied to Russia by a shared Orthodox Christian faith and a long history of close cooperation, Serbia has sought to balance its ties to Moscow with its aspirations to join the European Union.

Serbia refused to join the sanctions imposed on Russia by the European bloc, declaring itself neutral in the conflict, but it voted to United Nations last month for a resolution condemning Russia and demanding that it “withdraw immediately” from Ukraine.

Serbia’s application to join the European Union has been blocked for 14 years, but Mr. Vucic, President of Serbia, insisted that his country wanted to go ahead with its request. He has, however, faced heavy criticism from hardline nationalists who want Serbia to move closer to Russia, not Europe.

Mr Vucic’s balancing act has been made more difficult by the question of Kosovo, the former Serbian territory which declared itself an independent state in 2008 but has been bitterly divided between its predominantly Albanian population and its small minority Serb, who turns to Russia for protection. Russia, like Serbia and several other European countries struggling with separatist issues, does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, and has been an important ally of Serbia at the UN.

The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo verbally accepted in February an agreement brokered by the European Union – and denounced by the nationalists of the two countries – for the normalization of their relations. It has not been formally signed.

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