Russian rockets fuel tensions in the Balkans

Serbia is seeking a Russian air defense system in addition to fighter jets and battle tanks, Serbian officials say, in what could fuel tensions in the Balkans.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has said he negotiated the purchase of the S-300 anti-aircraft rockets during talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin this month and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko last month.

European Union officials have voiced alarm over increasing Russian influence in the western Balkans, which experienced a bloody civil war in the 1990s. Although Serbia claims it wants to be part of the EU, it has been strengthening military, economic and political ties with Slavic ally Russia.

But the planned purchase of the anti-aircraft system has been overshadowed in Serbia by reports from rival Croatia that Russia supplied Croatia with the same system during the 1990s war for independence from Serb-led Yugoslavia, a likely breach of a United Nations arms embargo in effect at the time.

Russia's Defense Ministry alleged Tuesday that the Croatian reports were aimed at undermining Moscow's relations with Serbia. The ministry said if Russian military hardware was given to Croatia during the war, it was done without government approval.

"According to our knowledge, dishonest Croatian moneymakers took advantage of this to supply Zagreb," the ministry said, referring to the Croatian capital. "Of course, the Russian Federation has never had anything to do with this."

As part of the new deal, Serbian officials have said that Putin agreed to approve the delivery of six MiG-29 fighter jets, 30 T-72 tanks and 30 BRDM-2 armored vehicles.

The S-300 system was first deployed by the Soviet Union in 1979, designed for the air defense of large industrial and administrative facilities, military bases and control of airspace against enemy strike aircraft.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said military and technical cooperation was "among the issues discussed at the highest level in Russian-Serbian contacts," according to the TASS news agency.