Serbia closer to deal over Rafale jets with France, President Vucic says

By Thomson Reuters Apr 9, 2024 | 7:51 AM

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia could soon sign a deal on the procurement of 12 Rafale multi-purpose fighter jets from France, President Aleksandar Vucic said on Tuesday.

Vucic, who is on a two-day visit to France, said he and President Emmanuel Macron reached concrete agreements over the purchase of the Rafale planes.

“The contract is expected to be signed in the next two months and in the presence of the president of France,” he told Serbian journalists in Paris.

The purchase of Rafales from France would mark a shift away from Russia as a traditional weapons supplier and could strain political ties between Belgrade and Moscow.

Last year, Vucic told Reuters that 12 new Rafale jets could cost the Balkan country around 3 billion euros ($3.26 billion).

Serbia, a candidate to join the European Union, has one of the largest militaries in the Balkans which is still reliant on Soviet-designed aircraft, such as MiG-29 jets and MI-35 helicopter gunships, alongside Russian missiles and tanks.

It also operates Chinese anti-aircraft missiles and combat drones.

Vucic also said Serbia was seeking to expand cooperation with Airbus and Thales.

Belgrade has already purchased Airbus-made H125M helicopters and C-295 transport planes for its military and police, Mistral surface-to-air missiles and Thales radars.

Serbia remains militarily neutral, but it joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme, tailored for countries which do not aspire to join the transatlantic alliance.

Vucic has said Serbia will seek other weapons suppliers after the introduction of Western sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The Serbian military is now loosely modelled after NATO standards and its troops often exercise with alliance members, including the United States.

Serbia has repeatedly condemned the invasion of Ukraine, but not joined Western sanctions against Russia.

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(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)