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Russian – Serbian military cooperation

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After many years of not investing in the armed forces, Serbia began to invest more seriously in rebuilding its army. Serbia has spent close to € 830 million since December 2016 to acquire new war techniques and modernize its armed forces, including overhaul and maintenance of weapons and military equipment. This can be calculated from the final accounts of the budget for the period 2016 – 2018 and from the budget for this year. In the budget for the current year alone, according to the classification 512, a record € 182.6 million was approved for the military defense. The Government decision of 7 October increased the budget for arms procurement to around € 233.48 million from the budget surplus. When all expenditures are calculated, it is estimated that € 356.25 million will be spent this year. And in 2020, according to the budget proposal, it is foreseen to spend significantly less money compared to this year, around € 218.32 million.(1) From all of the above it is clear that the total funds for modernization will exceed one billion euros, which clearly indicates that the Serbian army is seriously modernizing.

Serbia’s position in the region is such that only a strong Serbian army can guarantee peace. A strong role in the modernization of the armed forces of Serbia plays Russia, which in addition to selling arms without conditions, also perform training for members of the Serbian Army. It is especially important to emphasize that Russian military technology is significantly cheaper than the Western one, and in many segments has much better quality.

Six MiG-29 jet fighter aircrafts donated by Russia to Serbia were put into operational use, and some of the main costs of activating them so far have included transportation, overhaul of one aircraft, minor overhaul of the remaining five aircrafts, life extension, bringing Russian jets to the level of existing ones (approximate level of MiG-29SD), procurement of spare parts, ground and other equipment.(2) Immediately after it was announced that Russia will donate six MiG- 29 fighter jets to Serbia, officials said that the entire arrangement would cost 185 million euros and that price would also apply to 4 Serbian MiG 29 fighter jets, a total of 10 jets. This should be spent in three phases, two of which have already been implemented, the third phase is already initiated and should be completed by the end of 2020. Also, in addition to the modernization package, it is inevitable to acquire a certain amount of aircraft weapons, which can be a major expense. Because the price of one R-77 air-to-air missile is around $ 1 million. When it comes to the four MiG-29 fighter jets donated by Belarus, they will be delivered in early 2021 and they will most likely arrive modernized. As the deadline for completion of the works is almost two years, it can be assumed that, apart from the general overhaul, it will also be a modernization, or will actually be something if not the same as phase three for the 10 existing Serbian Mig-29 fighter jets. Some real cost of these works in Belarus could be up to 10 million euros per plane.

In October, three additional medium transport multipurpose Mi-17V-5 helicopters arrived from Russia to Serbia, slightly better equipped than the first two purchased in 2016. The price of the Mi-17V-5 ranges from $ 14 million to $ 22 million, depending on the version and the entire package it contains for training, equipment, armament and logistics. Serbia has also acquired 4 Russian landing – Mi-35M assault helicopters, which can be expected to be delivered later this year or early next year. The price of this type of helicopter in the market ranges from $ 20 million to $ 30 million and in certain arrangements may exceed $ 30 million.

In addition to 6 fighter jets MiG-29, Russia also donated to Serbia 30 T-72 tanks and 30 BRDM-2 armored reconnaissance vehicles. It is still not clear which version of the T-72 tanks Serbia will get. Although it was said to be a donation, the modernization of the armor, as well as everything else that goes with them, will be paid by Serbia. As for the BRDM-2, 10 armored personnel carriers have arrived in Serbia so far, and the rest is expected to come in the near future. The purchase of medium – range surface to air missile systems Panstir–S1 has been officially confirmed. This system is not cheap at all, for only one vehicle it is necessary to allocate about $ 15 million, but then there are the costs of training, logistics, spare parts, additional combat missile kits, so the price can be over $ 20 million.

All of these weapons, which come from Russia and Belarus, and which have been confirmed to have been purchased from the highest level and even by the Serbian president himself, could end up costing around $ 600 million.

However, the Serbian purchase of weapons from Russia did not go unnoticed by the United States of America. United States special representative for the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer in an interview with Macedonian media expressed concern that Serbia could acquire Russian weapons:

“I feel concerned not only about the deployment of Russian weapons, but also about the possibility of Serbia acquiring important Russian military systems,” the US diplomat told Macedonian media. And if the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic has repeatedly said that Serbia has no money for the S-400 and that Serbia wisely chooses which weapons to buy, Matthew Palmer “advised” Belgrade to be careful with such acquisitions. He made it clear that “the US could revise the sanctions regime against Serbia.”

Concluding thoughts

The military exercises of the Serbian and Russian armies have been taking place in the territory of Russia and Serbia for the last five years. A recent exercise that has attracted much attention due to the arrival of modern long – range surface to air missile system S-400 and medium – range surface to air missile systems Panstir–S1, represented the second phase of the “Slavic Shield 2019” and the first phase was conducted in September near Astrakhan in Russia. Then Serbian army underwent training on the S-400 Triumph system, which is the most powerful long-range air defense system in the world. It is also important to note that long – range surface to air missile system S-500 has already been developed in Russia and is expected to enter the operational use of the Russian military next year.

Without a doubt, Serbia needs the S-400 Triumph system. Belgrade needs an S-400 system that would deter the possibility of aggression against Serbia. In today’s world, nothing can so good guarantee the security of the state as strong air defense. Experiences from aggression against Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria teach us that only countries with strong air defense systems are states that can run an independent or neutral policy. But it is a misconception that one S-400 battery, as it is presented by the significant part of the Serbian analysts, is sufficient to protect the sky of Serbia. Serbia needs two S-400 missile batteries which would cost around one billion euros. Also S-400 has never been designed to operate as stand-alone system and is most effective as part of a much wider integrated air defense systems. An effective air defense consists of layers of different types of surface to air missile systems – from the very short range to the very long range. It also incorporates many different radars and other sensors for the detection of different types of enemy targets. For Serbia, that means that in addition to the S-400, which is a long-range system and the Pantsir S1, which is a short-range system, a medium-range surface to air missile system is required. And for Serbia, the Buk-M3 would be ideal. But, all of these surface to air missile systems are very expensive.

However, bearing in mind that the Government of Serbia and international financial institutions predicts that Serbia will have a GDP growth of about 4% in the years ahead, then there is a real possibility that Serbia will complete its air defense systems by purchasing Russian short, medium and long-range surface to air missile systems. This conclusion is also imposed in the fact that Serbian army has been trained to manage the S-400 system. It is important to note that members of the Serbian Army are regular participants of the “International Military Games” and members of the Serbian Army even won bronze in the “Military Rally” competition in August and also its important to point out that Serbian military personnel study at Russian military universities. All of the above clearly indicates that there is strong cooperation between the Russian and Serbian military, which will only be stronger in the years ahead.

From our partner International Affairs

Slavisha Batko Milacic is a historian and independent analyst. He has been doing analytics for years, writing in Serbian and English about the situation in the Balkans and Europe. Slavisha Batko Milacic can be contacted at email: varjag5[at]outlook.com

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Defense

Urgency of Reviewing India-Pakistan’s CBMs & Risk Reduction Measures

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In an unprecedented event on March 9, 2022, India launched a missile, reportedly identified as the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, which landed in Pakistan. After crossing the international border, the missile travelled 124 kilometres at an altitude of 40,000 feet into Pakistani airspace before impacting near the city of Mian Channu, Khanewal District. Following the incident, India started issuing clarification statements only after Pakistan reported the matter. In its first statement, India noted that the missile was accidently launched owing to a technical malfunction. Later, the Indian government changed its statement and termed it a human error, involving ‘possible lapses on part a Group Captain and a few others.’ Around six months later, India terminated the services of three Indian Air Force (IAF) officers, after a Court of Inquiry found ‘deviation from the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)’ by the officers and held them responsible for misfiring the missile.

Pakistan has rejected the purported closure of the incident and called the findings of the Court of Inquiry unsatisfactory and inadequate. While reiterating its call for a joint probe, Pakistan not only termed Indian clarifications ‘simplistic’ but also criticised the country for failing to immediately inform when the missile was launched. India’s failure to communicate the incident violated the 1991 agreement with Pakistan on preventing air space violations. Under the agreement, both India and Pakistan have to inform and investigate inadvertent violations of airspace promptly. Meanwhile, India also failed to activate the high-level military hotline to inform Pakistan. Both the countries maintain mechanisms of hotline contact between their Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) to resolve misunderstandings.

Fortunately, the missile was unarmed and no lives were lost. Pakistan also responded towards the situation with restraint. However, the incident marks an alarmist event. Whether the incident was an accidental launch, an unauthorised launch, or a simulated exercise, it suggests not only shortcomings in India’s technical and procedural system but also shows its irresponsible behaviour as a nuclear weapon state. The incident also raises numerous questions about the country’s safety protocols, Command and Control (C2) of nuclear weapons and missiles, and communication mechanisms. The situation would have escalated if the accident had led to destruction or loss of lives, since there were several indications that Pakistani authorities had considered retaliation. Second, if the incident had taken place during a crisis, it could have led to inadvertent military escalation owing to miscalculations.

In this regard, there is a great urgency that both India and Pakistan collaborate on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to ensure that such accidents or unauthorised launches do not take place in the future. Even if they do, the two countries should be able to inform each other before any military response.

First, India and Pakistan need to review their joint 2005 Agreement on the Pre-Notification of Flight Testing of Ballistic Missiles. The agreement covers surface-to-surface ballistic missiles only, and each country provides at least three days’ notice for a test launch. Both countries are obligated to not situate test launch sites within 40 kilometres of their shared border nor land a weapon closer than 70 kilometres from the border. However, the agreement has its limitations as it does not cover cruise missiles. In 2005, New Delhi declined to accept Islamabad’s proposal to include launch of cruise missiles in their joint agreement on pre-notification of ballistic missile launches. Currently, Pakistan and India have multiple and diverse types cruise missiles in their arsenal with high ranges. There is an urgency of expanding the pre-notification regime to include cruise missiles, including surface, air or sea-launched versions to avoid misunderstanding. Second, in order to avoid accidents in case of routine maintenance or inspection, India should efficiently and professionally ensure safety precautions regarding its missiles.

Additionally, India and Pakistan could also consider devising new Risk Reduction Measures (RRMs). For example, missiles that are scheduled to be inspected, both countries need to configure their weapons’ guidance systems to unoccupied places such as oceans or deserts where they pose minimum dangers. Moreover, the weapons’ pre-fed adversary target locations need to be removed while used for inspection, training, or simulated exercises. The maintenance of actual coordinates of adversary targets could lead to unintended escalation in accidental launches. These measures would not only help avoid accidents, they could also serve as an added layer of protocol to minimise the possibility of unauthorised launch.

However, accidents happen despite best safety protocols as there are limits of safety procedures. In such a possibility, there is a need of haste to communicate accidental launches. India needs to make use of existing channels of communication to avoid miscalculations in times of crises. The BrahMos missile incident indicates that crisis could erupt quite quickly between India and Pakistan. Unless the two countries adhere to their existing CBMs and establish new measures, mitigating such incidents and preventing risk of escalation could become a Gordian knot.

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Why Parties to Russia Ukraine War Prolonging it?

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Image source: kremlin.ru

Russia Ukraine War seems to be entering a deadly phase after seven months, witnessing significant twist in the form of Kremlin’s declaring victory in hasty referendum in four regions of occupied territory to join Russia, poising itself for complete annexation of occupied areas, having announced partial mobilization calling up 3,00,000 reservists for frontline duties. The recent successes of Ukrainian counteroffensive, as the cumulative military aid over $60 billion poured into Ukraine from US led NATO, seems to have emboldened Zelensky to talk of defeating Russia and getting back his entire territory. Angered NATO, left out of battle by nuclear threat, calling out sham referendum, is looking to table new resolution against it, knowing fully well that it will be vetoed by Russia.

Why No Party to the war is thinking of conflict termination?

This prolonged war is making everyone in the world vulnerable to inflationary pressures, triggering an unprecedented energy crisis and acute food shortages. In view of that, diplomacy and talks for conflict termination should have been the logical option long back, but no party to the war seems to be thinking about it due to own strategic interest, wanting to make more gains before getting back to negotiation table. All parties know that they can’t be outright winners in this war, but all are prolonging their agony to avoid being an outright loser.

Russian Stakes

Russia is yet to achieve its strategic aim of liberating complete Donbass Region and remaining southern Ukraine to landlock it, to join up with Transnistria. It has suffered heavy casualties and reverses in many regions like Kharkiv. It has received no worthwhile military material support from anyone in the prolonged war; hence consolidating its gains, redeployment of troops in Russian friendly areas by pulling back from unfriendly ones, along with regrouping and rejig in military hierarchy is a sensible option from military perspective.

The awkward thinly veiled threat by President Putin to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, if Russian “territorial integrity” is threatened has put NATO on notice as to how it would respond. The expected annexation post referendum complicates the nuclear threat, as attack on annexed territory may invite nuclear response as per Russian nuclear policy.

Putin may not be encouraged with meek support from China, its ‘strategic partner with no limit’ seemingly responding within careful limits, and comments like ‘Not an era of war’ from otherwise impartial India. Russia might end up with extension of direct land border with NATO by over 1000 Km in terms of Finland joining it. It also continues to suffer standoff attacks from Ukraine’s recently acquired long range capabilities including drones and clandestine raids of special forces and non-state actors like blasts in Crimea.

Russia is aware of its limitations in the areas of economic, diplomatic, information warfare, and political warfare. Russia’s much-criticised partial mobilisation and call for reservists is comparable to Ukraine’s, which carried it out while under Martial Law, seven months ago and was praised by Western media, highlighting information war against Russia. As a result, it will be prone to hold onto its existing territorial gains and prolong the conflict into the winter, which could favor a new offensive to accomplish remaining military objectives to give itself a stronger negotiating position to have the sanctions lifted.

Ukrainian Stakes

Having accepted so much of political, strategic and military investment of NATO in his country and tasted some success in his counteroffensives, President Zelensky, posing to be fighting on behalf of US led NATO to weaken Russia, is not in a position to back out from prolonging the war.

Ukraine cannot overlook the fact that it has lost 15% of its original land since being independent, is left with over 10 million refugees, devastated towns, suffered significant casualties, and its hyped democracy is struggling under martial law and referendum. While US-led NATO’s military assistance and arsenal can increase its combat power to launch standoff attacks, regaining lost ground from the Russians will be very difficult because they will use built-up areas for defending their gains in a manner similar to how Ukrainian troops did, more so under nuclear hangover.

NATO’s military support to pursue war will not bring Ukraine any closer to peace; nevertheless, it may result in long-term changes to its territorial configuration, unending proxy war, and enhance long term Russian threat. President Zelensky is aware that the western narrative and information war that portrays him as a hero and clear victor is unsustainable, yet he will prolong the conflict in order to safeguard his political survival and continued aid.

NATO’s Stakes

NATO may be encouraged by successes of Ukrainian counter-offensives, and its own gains in non-kinetic, non-contact, undeclared war against Russia in economic, information, diplomatic and political domains, but concerned that it can’t take Putin’s nuclear threat lightly, because a tactical nuclear strike from cornered Russia is within the realms of possibility, if Russia declares newly acquired territory as its integral part, post successful referendum and applies the policy of escalate to de-escalate.

The United States may benefit from sales of arms, energy, and post-conflict construction contracts in Ukraine, and it may justify recent increases in aid in order to pursue its goal of weakening Russia in order to fend off potential rivals in Europe, but its biggest strategic loss is bringing Russia, China, and Iran closer than ever before in a strategic partnership. It may be beginning of adoption of alternate global/localised financial systems, undermining its grip on current global financial system.

NATO, encouraged by soft Russian response to the bid of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, is keen to add both with strong militaries, to secure its northern flank for better collective security posture in the long run. It also makes sense in context of Sino-Russian footprints in Arctic region and North Atlantic Ocean.

NATO will continue to urge Russia to end the conflict while supporting Ukraine in its proxy war until last Ukrainian remains because holding negotiations when a sizable portion of the land is in Russian hands will be viewed as NATO’s weakness. With millions of refugees mixed in with activated mercenaries and a longer border with belligerent Russia, which will reorganise itself after learning from its mistakes, the war is undoubtedly not making Europe more peaceful. It has signaled its willingness to sacrifice its energy and economic interests in order to achieve that goal. To effectively combat unfriendly Russia in the long run, the EU will need to increase its defence spending while holding some sovereign decisions hostage to the USA.

Way Ahead

Despite the narrative and rhetoric of the west, Ukraine may not recapture a sizable amount of territory, but standoff strikes, proxy war, clandestine operations, and some ground operations to cause Russian fatalities will continue in the coming days, inviting an equal or stronger Russian reaction.

In the Big powers’ contestation in Ukraine, the global need is that this war should end, but the negotiations are unlikely, because Russia has not yet achieved its strategic objectives on the ground, which is essential to persuade NATO to lift sanctions. On the other side, US led NATO doesn’t have any leverage to restrain Putin, so it finds weakening Russia by ongoing proxy war, without sharing any burden of body bags, as the most convenient option.  This is especially true when Zelensky is prepared to take this move because he understands that without US support, he will lose his position of power.

In current phase of offensive, Russia seemed to have reached its culmination point before seizing center of gravity of Ukrainian forces, a situation which is uncomfortable for any attacker in military campaign. The referendum and nuclear threat by Russia have pushed the war into next phase, with NATO yet to work out its responses.

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India overreacted to the US $450 million deal with Pakistan

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India registered a strong protest with the US last week over the latter’s decision to approve a $ 450 million sustainment package for Pakistan’s aging F-16 Fleet. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency DSCA said in a statement that the sustainment program would assist Pakistan in its campaign against terrorism with a rider that it will not affect the status quo in the region. The Biden administration has ignored the “strong objections” raised by India over the proposed foreign military sale of $450 million to Pakistan in order to sustain the Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 program.

Pakistan’s arch-rival India has voiced “serious objections” to the US plan for Foreign Military Sales (FMS) worth $450 million for hardware, software, and spares for the F-16 fighter jet during official meetings with US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu in Delhi.

In widely published comments, Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said last week that the US was not “fooling anybody” by claiming the equipment was for counterterrorism operations. Recently Indian foreign Minister cut short his trip to the US, and without attending his pre-scheduled meetings and returned back to India in protest. His behavior was unprecedented in the diplomacy world and considered an overreaction.

Prime Minister Modi is upset too and sources close to his are guessing a severe reaction from him. Unconfirmed, but a possible reaction may include cancellation of defense agreements with the US, and exclusion from “Quad” – an anti-China alliance with the US, Japan, and Australia. The Indian ideology of intolerance, extremism, and nationalism is the real threat to the region.

As a matter of fact, India has been hijacked by extremists and any extreme reaction is expected at any moment. There was a time in history when India was known democratic and secular state. But, now, under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, all extremist political parties and groups under the umbrella of the BJP are ruling India.

The extremist and fanatics are implementing their agenda of eliminating minorities and transforming India into a “Pure Hindu State”. Especially with Pakistan, a traditional rivalry exists and they cannot see any improvement in Pakistan. 

Pakistan was in the American club for almost Seven Decades and enjoyed very cordial relations with the Western world. Whereas India was a close ally with the former USSR. Although Pakistan was a close ally of the West, yet was facing the toughest sanctions too. However, there is a realization in Washington and a visible policy shit was witnessed recently. Pakistan always welcomes and desires the restoration of traditional friendship between the West and Pakistan.

The US claims the proposed sale to Pakistan does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions, but it would be hard for New Delhi to digest such claims and remain complacent. Interestingly, the fleet of F-16s has been part of the Pakistan Air Force since the early 1980s. Pakistan has always used the US-supplied defense systems in its defense only. The F-16s in their arsenals have been no exception. In February 2019, after the Indian Air Force launched its air strike on Balakot, Pakistan came to deploy its F-16s to target Indian military bases close to the Line of Control.

Apart from Pakistan, the US has sold F-16s in many countries like Bahrain, Belgium, Egypt, Taiwan, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Thailand, Turkey, etc. However, South Asia remains a highly volatile region. The US has been sitting on the sale of F-16s to Turkey based on security concerns in the Mediterranean region, which makes the Pakistan agreement all the more intriguing.

Department of State spokesperson Ned Price has said the relationship Washington had with Pakistan “stands on its own,” responding to criticism from India over a proposed US sale of F-16 aircraft sustainment and related equipment to Islamabad.

Answering a question about Jaishankar’s comments, the state department spokesperson said on Monday Washington did not view its relations with India or Pakistan “in relation to one another.” “These are both partners of ours with different points of emphasis in each, and we look to both as partners because we do have in many cases shared values, we do have in many cases shared interests,” Price told a briefing. “And the relationship we have with India stands on its own; the relationship we have with Pakistan stands on its own.”

There are positive signals and it seems the traditional relations between the US and Pakistan will be restored soon. Our relations are not any threat to India or any other nation, but, for promoting regional peace, stability and development. We are partners in peace, development, and the total welfare of humankind.

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