NATO and partners surrounded Serbia

Piše: Dženana Karup Druško

Instead of the earlier plan to focus the exercise DEFENDER-Europe 21 on the Baltic states and Poland – it is focused on the Western Balkans and Ukraine. Why are Serbia and the Russian Federation protesting?

A multinational, joint military exercise led by the U.S. military called DEFENDER-Europe 21 is being conducted with the goal of building the readiness and interoperability of U.S., NATO and Partner armies. The exercise is ongoing, and the main maneuvers are planned for May and June. About 28.000 soldiers from 26 countries are participating, including the countries that emerged from the disintegration of the SFRY, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Northern Macedonia, as members of the Alliance, but also Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, as partner countries, except Serbia.


Partners in the Balkans and the Black Sea


Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said that NATO was sending 40.000 troops to the Russian border, because, according to him, the DEFENDER-Europe 21 is the largest Western military exercise in the last 30 years and is being conducted ”with a clear anti-Russian orientation”.


NATO's April 15 statement, with a strong message: ”NATO allies support and show solidarity with the United States”, (clearly) explains who and how threatens world peace: Russia continues to show a sustainable pattern of destabilizing behavior, including violations of sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine and Georgia, and the continuing violation, non-implementation and circumvention of a number of international obligations, including the Budapest Memorandum. The statement also cites examples of attempts to interfere in Allied elections, including the U.S. presidential election, as well as widespread disinformation campaigns and malicious cyber activities.


It was also said from NATO that all available evidence points to the responsibility of the Russian Federation for hacking SolarWinds, stating: “We are in solidarity with the United States. We condemn the attack on Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition figure, with the use of a nerve agent from the banned Novichok group. Reports that Russia encouraged attacks against on US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are also of concern.”


Announcing the exercise itself from today's strongest military power, they said: ”The exercise demonstrates our ability to serve as a strategic security partner in the western Balkans and the Black Sea regions while sustaining our abilities in northern Europe, the Caucasus, Ukraine and Africa.”


“DEFENDER-Europe 21 provides us the best opportunity to hone our abilities alongside our allies and partners in the strategically important Balkans and Black Sea region so that collectively, we are ready to respond to any crisis that may arise,”said General Christopher Cavoli, U.S. Army Europe and Africa commanding general.


Russia’s aggressive behavior


There is no doubt that this military exercise is a continuation of the policy of the Western Allies announced at the beginning of the year, and after the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House. Thus, the joint statement of the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, on February 26, 2021 (ahead of the European Council meeting), was more than clear regarding the Balkans: “We welcome the very strong message of the new Biden administration, to renew the alliances,, to strengthen the transatlantic bond. It will also be a major issue when NATO leaders meet in Brussels later this year, and we will also continue to work on the issues we have worked on for many years, like stabilizing the Western Balkans or tackling migration at Aegean.”


So it was as it was said then. Thirty NATO foreign ministers, who gathered in Brussels from March 23rd to 24th, among the others, concluded: ”By its aggressive behavior, Russia is undermining and destabilizing its neighbors and trying to infiltrate the Balkan region.” Philip Breedlove, former commander NATO’s force for Europe was even clearer: ”This year is a year of growing conflicts between the West and Russia for the future of the Western Balkans. Serbia will be implementing its so-called Greater Serbia project on Kosovo, Montenegro and BiH.”




It is obvious that the arrival of Joe Biden as President of the United States influenced the implementation of the DEFENDER- Europe 21 exercise and that NATO now focuses on the Balkans and Ukraine, and that the current exercise is the US and partner's response to Russian interference in the Balkans and thus a response to the attempt to break up Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is most probably the strongest support for the territorial integrity of BiH so far, but also to Northern Macedonia and Montenegro, which are also in the focus of Russian policy, which through Aleksandar Vučić continues the policy of Slobodan Milošević (and the Serbian Orthodox Church) on Greater Serbia, so now called ”Serbian world”. The DEFENDER- Europe 21 gives a completely new meaning to the borders on the Drina river, but also to the port of Brčko.


Protests of Serbia


Serbia was officially informed about the exercise in accordance with international law, after which, Belgrade, through the Minister of Defense, Nebojša Stefanović, officially protested to the US Ambassador to Belgrade, Anthony Godfrey, but also to the US Defense Attache in Belgrade, Colonel Corey Shea, expressing concern because of participation of the Kosovo Security Forces in the exercise, explaining that NATO has violated international law and United Nations resolutions.


The US ambassador ”diplomatically” replied that he “understands” Serbia’s concerns, although the two countries (USA and Serbia) have different views on this issue. The exercise, of course, continued.


For the first time since the bombing, Serbia has faced a clear NATO plan (and messages). What will happen if Serbia continues to turn into a Russian military base in Europe, surrounded on all sides by NATO?


Active participantson the negations between Wesley Clark, that time a commander of Allied operations and Yugoslav generals, later testified that Clark provided them with a clear plan of NATO action if they continued to commit crimes in Kosovo, noting that they could not defend themselves. They didn’t listen to him. NATO bombed Serbia and stopped the war in Kosovo, which later gained its independence and became a state.


Sputnik (Serbia) by writing about the exercise DEFENDER-Europe 21, quoted a military analyst Dr. Mitar Kovač, who has no doubt that the exercise was designed to ”demonstrate strength in the region and Europe”, and that it is ”primarily a demonstration exercisein a potential conflict with Russia”. According to Kovač, “the name of the exercise, as well as its essence, comes down to practicing the rapid transfer of soldiers from a peacetime location in the United States to a potential battlefield in Europe. For those who have followed the development of the situation in Europe in recent years, the strategic intentions of this military alliance are clear”. Kovač also explained that most soldiers come from the United States and that the main area of exercise will be the Balkans.


“NATO allies and partners are stronger when they are together”


The Americans and the strongest NATO allies (in the exercise) purposefully isolated Serbia and prevented it from any activity related to the exercise, which is a direct message that Serbia is not considered as a factor of stability, as Hungarian and Slovenian representatives together with Milorad Dodik and Dragan Čović like to emphasize, quite the opposite. In this context ¬ – the context of the change in American policy, expressed through Defender 21 and putting the Balkans in focus, one should look at the rude and provocative performances of the new/old Russian diplomatic representative in BiH.


With this ongoing exercise, the territory of Serbia is being treated as a potentially hostile territory and is perhaps one of the last warnings to Serbia to distance itself from Russian influence and policy with various activities that Russia is carrying out in the Balkans (with the help of Serbia). The exercise is a message to all others who think that the violent redrawing of borders in the Balkans can create some new ”big-small” states.


However, we are pleased with the possible start of the dialogue, because (American and Russian) national security advisers, Jake Sullivan and Nikolai Patrushev, have established contact for possible negotiations at the highest level. Biden also announced a meeting this summer with Putin in Europe (where American troops have already landed).


DEFENDER-Europe 21 is “a proof of America’s undisputed commitment to NATO and a prime example of their collective capabilities, and it also shows that NATO allies and partners are stronger when they are together”, the US Embassy in BiH said. There is no doubt at all that this exercise is the most obvious example of a change of US policy toward the Balkans and Bosnia and Herzegovina.


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