Serbia to buy loitering munitions from UAE, invest in military industry -president
(Reuters) - Serbia said on Tuesday it would buy loitering munitions, a type of drone that flies to a target and detonates, from the United Arab Emirates, signalling a further distancing from longtime ally and arms supplier Russia.
"Within the next 48 hours, we will sign the contract (for the munitions)," President Aleksandar Vucic said on Tuesday while visiting a defence exhibition in the UAE's Abu Dhabi.
"These are suicide drones and they will be in Serbia, and we are hoping to have the first domestic suicide drones in the Serbian army within five or six months," he told reporters in remarks carried live by Serbian television.
Vucic did not specify how many loitering munitions Belgrade would obtain from the UAE, their price, or the manufacturer.
Serbia, a candidate to join the European Union, has been under pressure from the West to scale back its links with Russia, a traditional Orthodox Christian and Slavic ally, since Moscow's devastating invasion of Ukraine almost a year ago.
Although Serbia has voted against Russia three times at the United Nations since the invasion, the government in Belgrade has so far refused to join Western sanctions against Moscow.
Vucic said on Monday Serbia wants to bolster its military and defence industry by investing an additional 700 million euros ($746.62 million) through 2023.
Serbia's military is loosely based on older, former Soviet hardware, with MiG-29 fighters and MI-35m helicopter gunships, and its air defences are mainly comprised of Russian missile systems and radars. Its ground forces also use Soviet-made T-72 tanks and armoured personnel carriers.
It also operates Chinese reconnaissance and combat drones and mid-range surface-to-air missiles.
Last year, Vucic said Serbia wanted to purchase Rafale multipurpose fighter jets from France. On Monday he said that the talks on the price, which he estimated at around 3 billion euros, were still ongoing.
($1 = 0.9376 euros)
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; editing by Mark Heinrich)