Chinese military plane flies towards Nikola Tesla Airport
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Six Chinese Air Force Y-20 transport planes touched down at Nikola Tesla airport, Belgrade, on Saturday, according to media and military experts. They were reportedly carrying HQ-22 surface-to-air missile systems for the Serbian military.
President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, all but confirmed delivery of the medium-range system, saying on Saturday he will present the newest pride of the Serbian military on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Online magazine, The Warzone, said the appearance of the Y-20s raised eyebrows because they flew en masse as opposed to a series of single-aircraft flights.
It described the Y-20’s presence in Europe in any numbers as a fairly new development, adding it is “quite probable” that China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force used the delivery to demonstrate its own airlift capability given NATO efforts to ferry supplies and materiel for Ukraine’s war effort.
Serbia voted in favour of UN resolutions condemning Russian attacks in Ukraine, but it has refused to join international sanctions against Moscow.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Earlier today, 9MAR22, @ BEG: China Air Force Xi'an Y-20A Kunpeng (20042 and 20047).<br><br>: Zoran Skundric <a href=”https://t.co/KeDOI0WsxH”>pic.twitter.com/KeDOI0WsxH</a></p>— BoardingPass (@BoardingPassRO) <a href=”https://twitter.com/BoardingPassRO/status/1512669039029538818?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>April 9, 2022</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>
The Kremlin said last week that Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed expanding Moscow’s economic ties with Belgrade, including in the energy sector, with Mr Vucic.
A statement from Mr Vucic’s office said he told Putin about difficulties Serbia is facing over crude oil imports, adding he was convinced both Gazprom Neft and EU partners will find a solution.
The delivery of arms over Turkey and Bulgaria, which are NATO members, was seen by experts as a demonstration of China’s growing global reach.
Aleksandar Radic, a Serbian military analyst, said that the Chinese carried out their demonstration of force.
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Mr Vucic had complained NATO countries were refusing to allow the system’s delivery flights over their territories amid tension over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
US officials warned Belgrade in 2020 against the purchase of HQ-22 anti-aircraft systems, whose export version is known as FK-3.
They insisted that if Serbia wanted to join the EU, as well as other alliances in the West, it had to align its military equipment with Western standards.
China’s missile system has been compared to the American Patriot and Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile systems.
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However, it has a shorter range than more advanced S-300s. It is believed Serbia will be the first operator of the Chinese missiles in Europe.
There are fears in the West that the arming of Serbia by Russia and China could encourage the Balkan country toward war against its former province of Kosovo, which proclaimed independence in 2008.
Serbia, Russia and China do not recognise Kosovo as a state, while the United States and a majority Western countries do.
News of the delivery comes after US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman warned last Wednesday that sanctions imposed on Russia should give China a good understanding of the consequences it could face if it provides material support to Moscow.
Ms Sherman told a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing: “It gives President Xi, I think, a pretty good understanding of what might come his way should he, in fact, support Putin in any material fashion.”
She said Beijing should take away the right lessons from the Western response over Ukraine that any moves by China to take Taiwan by force would not be acceptable.
Ms Sherman added: “We hope that the [People’s Republic of China] understands that any such action would see a response from the international community, not just from the United States.”
China has refused to condemn Russia’s action in Ukraine or call it an invasion and has criticised Western sanctions on Moscow.
However, a senior Chinese diplomat said last week Beijing is not deliberately circumventing those sanctions.
Beijing and Moscow have developed increasingly close ties in recent years, including the announcement of a “no limits” partnership in February.
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