Photo: Tanjug / Dragan Kujundžić

The current year has seen the continued intensification of cooperation between Serbia and NATO and the positive messages of the leaders on both sides regarding its further improvement. Serbia is not a member of NATO, but closely cooperates with the Alliance through participation in the Partnership for Peace Programme, ratification of a number of agreements that define and accelerate this relationship, as well as by participating in international military exercises. In this text, we list some of the most important events that illustrate this cooperation in the year behind us.

Platinum Wolf 2018

“Platinum Wolf 2018” was an international military exercise which has taken place on June 22, 2018 at the “Jug” near Bujanovac. About 500 officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers of the armed forces participated in the exercise, primarily NATO members and countries of the region: the United States of America, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Montenegro and Serbia.

The exercise was carried out on the topics of “Tactics, Techniques and Procedures in Multinational Operations – Non-Armed Weapons” and “Peace Operations” where members of the military participating countries practiced the use of non-lethal weapons, actions and procedures for engaging in multinational operations in an international environment.

NATO Summit – The Western Balkans is of great importance

This year’s NATO summit, which took place on July 11 and 12 in Brussels, was held in the climate of distrust and uncertainty in the future of the Alliance. However, in spite of that, leaders have managed to agree to boost co-operation within NATO.

In the Declaration of the Brussels Summit adopted by the Heads of member states, the Western Balkans has been assessed as a region of “strategic importance, which is also reflected in a long history of co-operation”. In the declaration, heads of state have taken the “open door” policy stance and have formally invited Macedonia to start accession negotiations with NATO, at the pre-condition of the  Prespa Agreement implementation.

The declaration has welcomed the ever-growing cooperation with Serbia and has supported the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. NATO Deputy Secretary-General Rosa Goetemuller said that “NATO is not provoking Serbia and does not ask it to join the Alliance”. At the same time, it was stated that NATO will remain in Kosovo through KFOR and continue its cooperation with Pristina and the EU to contribute to protection and security.

Platinum Lion 2018

In August 2018, Serbia has participated in another NATO exercise named “Platinum Lion 2018”. The exercise was held at the Bulgarian-American Military Base near Novo Selo, and 700 military personnel from the USA, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Romania and the United Kingdom has taken part in the exercise.

This battalion-level exercise was aimed at strengthening of interoperability, as well as a better understanding of the national tactics, techniques and procedures of partner countries. It is interesting that during the exercise, Serbian and Bulgarian soldiers “cleaned” the public building from terrorists, as well as evacuated “injured” soldiers with a Cougar Helicopter.

Air Solution 2018

Between 18 and 21 September 2018, for the fifth time, the international air exercise “Air Solution 2018” was held. The exercise was organized jointly by the Serbian and Romanian Air Force Air Force in the airspace of Serbia and Romania, and the representatives of the National Guard of the Ohio State had the status of an observer.

The exercise involved fighter planes, fighter-bombers and transport planes, as well as the helicopter units engaged in search and rescue operation. The tasks of airspace control and protection, the handling of crisis situations in the airspace in the border zone between the two countries, as well as the tasks of aviation support and search and rescue tasks have been carried out.

Serbia in 2018 and Jens Soltenberg’s visit to Serbia

On October 8, 2018, an international field exercise “Serbia 2018” started in Mladenovac, which was organized by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia and the Euro-Atlantic Center for Emergency Situations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO EADRCC). It was the largest civil defense exercise which NATO has organized together with a single country. The exercise involved 2,000 participants from 38 countries who, together with members of the Ministry of Defense and the Army of Serbia, conducted disaster relief management.

On that occasion, Serbia was visited by NATO Secretary General Jens Soltenberg, who together with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic opened these exercises. The same day, they both attended a special event ahead of the Belgrade Security Forum (BSF). Both leaders have highlighted the importance of gathering different countries and bringing together civilians and the army in the fight against natural disasters.

Stoltenberg has also stressed that the Western Balkans have gone a long way, that they have stronger economic growth, that important reforms are implemented and that the budgets are balanced, but called regional trade, economic co-operation and cohesion as a prerequisite for eradicating distrust and nationalist rhetoric in the region.

REGEX 2018

In the simulation training center of the Belgrade barracks “Banjica 2” in the period from October 15th to 19th, a multinational command-headquarters exercise was held, supported by computer simulations titled  “REGEX 18”.

The aim of the exercise was to improve interoperability in ​training procedures and the development of the armed forces‘ capabilities of the countries of the region, NATO members and others involved in the Partnership for Peace Programme. Apart from the members of the Serbian Armed Forces, members of the Special Anti-terrorist Unit of the Ministry of Interior, representatives of the UN Office in Belgrade, UNICEF, UNHCR, OSCE, the Red Cross and about 60 members of the armed forces from 15 countries participated in the exercise.

Sixth Belgrade NATO Week

Belgrade NATO Week was traditionally held for the sixth time, organized by the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies. The main topics of this conference were the plans for cooperation between Serbia and NATO, the main conclusions from the NATO Summit with a special focus on the Western Balkans, stability and security situation assessment in the Western Balkans, including the achievements and chances of European Union and Euro-Atlantic integration and challenges that monitor the Belgrade-Pristina negotiations and the impacts on the regional stability of the potential comprehensive multidimensional agreement, with numerous representatives of non-governmental organizations, NATO and the army of Serbia, including the new Chief of Staff of the Serbian Armed Forces, Milan Mojisilović.

“We are aware that relations between Serbia and NATO are delicate and burdened by the past – we have different opinions about this, and that is reality. But we have the obligation and responsibility to ensure stability by joint forces”, Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić i said n an introductory address. He reminded that Serbia is committed to further developing relations with the Alliance, but also that it wants to stay in the context of military neutrality.

A new KFOR commander

At the end of October, there was a change of command of KFOR. The new commander became Major-General Lorenzo D’Adario, who has replaced Major General Salvatore Cuoci. D’Adario graduated from the Military Academy in Naples, and was educated in the United Kingdom. He took part in operations in the northern Iraq and Somalia in the 1990s, and in 1999 he was a member of Operation „Common Protector“ in Kosovo, where he returned in 2003-2004 as part of the „Decisive endeavor“ operation. Since 2015, he has been the head of the policy department and the planning of the Italian General Staff until the new duty takes over.

“NATO’s commitment to Kosovo has been lasted many years and NATO currently does not intend to change or reduce the KFOR mission in Kosovo, but the Alliance does not have plans for permanent presence in Kosovo,” he said in the same month leaving Commander Cuoci in an interview with European Western Balkans.

Formation of the Kosovo Army

After voting for changes in the laws concerning the transformation of the Kosovo Security Force has passed, Alliance leaders called for calm and restraint, while stressing that KFOR remains the only guarantor of peace in Kosovo. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the decision to adopt three laws initiated by the Kosovo Security Force (KPS) transition to the Kosovo armed forces was made in spite of the concerns expressed by NATO and “regrets about that decision”.