How many exercises have Serbia and NATO had to date and how do you assess our cooperation so far?
Exercises are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of NATO-Serbia cooperation, since there are a lot of things going on in the practical sphere that are not seen at first glance. As a partner country, Serbia has a high level of cooperation with NATO, with NATO fully respecting Serbia’s policy of military neutrality. Since Serbia joined the Partnership for Peace programme and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 2006, we have done quite a lot together and I think the Serbian people saw how Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and President Aleksandar Vučić get along very well, advancing the political dialogue, with relations in the practical sphere constantly improving. NATO worked side by side with Serbian colleagues to destroy dangerous obsolete munitions, conducted a number of scientific research projects together, with many similar mutually beneficial projects still underway. In 2018, Serbia generously hosted two important exercises: “REGEX 18” – which helped Serbia prepare for unhindered participation in UN-led international peace operations, and “SRBIJA 18”.The “SRBIJA 18” exercise was aimed at helping countries deal more efficiently with emergencies like floods, fires and earthquakes. I would assess cooperation between NATO and Serbia as mutually beneficial and useful; practical; tailor-made to suit Serbia’s needs and wishes. Through our partnership, we provide education and training to Serbian Armed Forces officers. They visit NATO countries and get their training there. We exchange units, carry out joint exercises, share best practices, and NATO helps Serbia develop capacities for successful participation in multinational operations. On the other hand, Serbia also helps NATO. For example, Serbian military medicine teams are famous for their knowledge and expertise. That is why they helped NATO train Iraqi forces medical teams. We continually learn from each other.
NATO fully respect Serbia’s right to choose its own destiny and formulate its own foreign policy. It is solely up to Serbia how it wishes to conduct its foreign policy. We fully respect the choices made by our partners, choices Serbia makes or wishes to make. Serbia is an important and valued partner to NATO.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić
Could Serbia keep its neutrality and stay away from any military alliance?
My message is clear: NATO fully respects Serbia, its neutrality, and Serbia is an important and valued partner to NATO. NATO respects the right of every sovereign nation to decide its own destiny without force and without interference, whether it decides to join NATO or not. We fully respect Serbia’s right to make its own decisions, and that will not change. I repeat, NATO respects Serbia’s right to choose its own destiny without force and without interference. For NATO, this is a fundamental and important principle. It is up to Serbia to define how it wishes to conduct its foreign policy. Serbia has every right to choose its own path, like all its neighbours. We respect that. We don’t impose anything on our partners. A prosperous and economically strong Serbia is a prerequisite for peace and stability in the region, and we are glad that Serbia is on the path of growth and constant improvement. When we talk about NATO and if it is possible to stay militarily neutral and cooperate with us, examples of Austria, Sweden, Finland and even neutral Switzerland show that being neutral and partnering with NATO is possible. NATO-Serbia partnership is good for Serbia, good for the Western Balkans, and good for NATO.
Chief of NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade, Brigadier General Cesare Marinelli
Does Russia's influence in Serbia bother NATO and why is this influence often branded as "malign" by US officials?
We fully respect Serbia’s right to choose its own destiny and formulate its own foreign policy. It is solely up to Serbia how it wishes to conduct its foreign policy. We fully respect the choices made by our partners, choices Serbia makes or wishes to make. Serbia is an important and valued partner to NATO. Just to make it clear, NATO does not seek members or forces membership. As for the second part of your question, I must underline that I am a NATO official, not a US official. The only thing I can say is that it is up to Serbia to decide how it wants to cooperate with Russia or any other country and to what extent. We want the countries in the region to be able to make independent political choices, whichever direction they go, and retain their political sovereignty and full integrity without outside interference. I would like to stress that from NATO’s point of view, there is no conflict between having good relations with NATO and good relations with Russia. We don’t impose anything on our partners. Military neutrality is in no contradiction to cooperation with NATO.
Why isn't NATO offering Serbia its weaponry under favourable conditions like Russia?
NATO is an alliance of 29 democracies. NATO does not have an army, NATO does not own weapons, nor does it sell or buy weapons, NATO countries do. This is a common misconception when we talk about NATO. NATO is Italy, my home country, NATO is France, whose president visited Serbia recently, NATO is Norway, where our Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is from, NATO is Greece, where the majority of Serbs take their kids for summer holidays, NATO is Hungary, Slovakia and all the other members. On a bilateral level, there are a lot of things going on between Serbia and 29 NATO countries, some of which are also in the EU. These countries donate and invest a lot in Serbia, be it through NATO Trust Funds or their EU funds, or on a purely bilateral basis and economic cooperation. It is very difficult to summarize in one place the amount of funds allocated by NATO countries for Serbia. In addition, NATO invests in Serbia through various projects based on a logistics support agreement between Serbia and the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA). This agreement establishes ways for Serbia to implement practical projects in the areas of demilitarization, defence transformation or capacity building by enabling individual NATO member states and partners to provide resources through the Trust Funds
Is KFOR capable of protecting Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, specifically of protecting them from Albanian attacks, such as the most recent stabbing of a Serbian boy near the bridge that divides the Serbian Northern and Albanian Southern part of Mitrovica?
NATO strongly condemns all violence. Security of all people in Kosovo is of utmost importance to NATO. NATO is present in Kosovo through our KFOR mission, under a clear international mandate. We are there to create stability, peace and to protect all communities in Kosovo, including Serbs. We take our job very seriously. KFOR is fully dedicated to the mission and will do what is necessary to ensure a safe and secure environment. NATO cooperates closely with the United Nations, the European Union and other international actors, as appropriate, to fulfil its mission and support the development of a stable and peaceful environment.
Serbia is a homeland to a proud nation, with highly respected officers. Serbian Officers are held in very high regard all over the world.