Serbia has pulled out of planned military drills in Belarus with Russia after pressure from the European Union, the country’s defense minister Aleksandar Vulin said Wednesday.
Serbia is formally seeking membership in the EU, but it also maintains close ties with Moscow. The country was due to participate in the ‘Slavic Brotherhood 2020’ exercise with Russian and Belarusian troops this month.
“We are asked, at the cost of leaving our European future, to abandon the planned military exercises with Belarus”, Vulin said, adding that Serbia faced “great and undeserved pressure from the EU” and would suspend military drills with all partners for six months.
Belarus has been rocked by weeks of protests after president Alexander Lukashenko, who has led the country since 1994, won a landslide victory in the August 9 election. The vote was denounced by EU officials, and forced Lukashenko to look to Moscow for support.
Lukashenko was the only world leader who visited Serbia during the 1999 NATO bombing of the country over its crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists. The move was seen as his support of Serbia’s former strongman, Slobodan Milosevic.
Serbia has also been strengthening political, economic and military ties with Russia and China. Earlier, it has refused to join EU sanctions against Russia for its policies over Ukraine.
Last month, however, Serbia joined the EU in its rejection of the election results in Belarus. The country’s prime minister Ana Brnabic said that Belgrade signed up with the EU resolution on Belarus in order to align the country’s policies with the bloc’s.