Serbian military drill ramps up as relations with Kosovo deteriorate

As many as 2,000 Serbian soldiers are preparing for the final days of a major drill near the country’s border with Kosovo.

The drill, codenamed Vihor, comes after Serbian defence minister Miloš Vučević said Belgrade was ”not a punching bag” and that “no one will humiliate us”.

Tensions in the Balkans have been high for some times, with the war in Ukraine exacerbating distrust and triggering a regional arms race. A new flashpoint came earlier this week when the Council of Europe recommended that Kosovo become a member. A full 131 members voted for Kosovo’s accession, with just 29 voting against and 11 abstaining.

Vučević responded furiously to the decision, saying ”their shame for all that they are doing around the Council of Europe and the UN will last forever”.

Arming up

Vihor was ordered by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić with the aim of improving the Serbian Armed Forces’ ability to solve tactical and fire tasks during the preparation and execution of combat operations. The exercise has involved more than 2,000 army personnel, hundreds of weapons, drones and anti-aircraft defence systems.

The prime minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, announced in response to the drill that his country’s security forces and defences are being enhanced.

”We responded by doubling the military budget and tripling the armament budget,” he said. “We bought Bairaktar drones and Javelin anti-tank missiles, while there are 1,852 new soldiers in the barracks, which will be joined by 600 new recruits this year.”

Kosovo is a mainly ethnic Albanian-populated territory that was formerly a province of Serbia. It declared independence in 2008.

Kosovo’s independence is recognised by about 100 countries including the US, but the Belgrade government still considers the country part of Serbia, even though it has no formal control there.

The EU and the US have been trying to normalise ties between Serbia and Kosovo for years, but tempers flared again last year after clashes between police and local Serbs in northern Kosovo.

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