Serbia is one of the largest and most important arms producers in Central Europe, with a tradition that dates back to the era of Yugoslavia. The country offers a wide range of weapons and military equipment, from handguns and mines to artillery and tanks, and even missile systems, drones, fighter jets, and electronic equipment.
However, Serbia’s arms trade has also been marred by allegations of corruption, illegal exports, and involvement in war and conflict zones. One of the most controversial issues is Serbia’s role in supplying weapons to Ukraine.
Serbia officially maintains a policy of neutrality regarding the conflict in Ukraine. The country does not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 but also does not support Ukraine’s integration into NATO or the EU. Serbia has close historical, cultural, and religious ties with Russia, which is its main ally and partner on the international stage. However, Serbia also seeks to maintain good relations with the West and pursue its EU accession process.
Serbia has repeatedly denied selling weapons to either side of the conflict in Ukraine. In March 2023, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic refuted reports that Serbia had been supplying ammunition to Ukraine or Russia. “Serbia does not supply weapons to anyone,” he said at a press conference. “We are innocent as a lamb.” He added that Serbia only sells weapons to countries that have “friendly relations” with both Russia and Ukraine.
Despite Serbia’s official denials, there is mounting evidence that Serbian weapons have reached Ukraine through various channels and intermediaries. Some of these include:
- In July 2022, a Ukrainian plane carrying 11.5 tons of Serbian-made mortar rounds and mines crashed near Kavala, Greece, killing all eight crew members. The official destination of the cargo was Bangladesh, but some sources suggested that it was actually bound for Ukraine via Turkey or Slovakia. The person behind the production of the munitions was reportedly Slobodan Tesic, one of the biggest arms dealers in the Balkans and a long-term presence on US sanctions lists.
- In March 2022, an investigative report by Arms Watch revealed documents showing that Bulgaria had exported large quantities of weapons to Ukraine between 2014 and 2019. Some of these weapons were originally produced by Serbia’s state-owned arms company Krusik and re-exported by Bulgaria without Serbia’s consent or knowledge. The report also claimed that some Serbian weapons were delivered to Ukrainian forces by private military contractors hired by Turkey.
- In February 2022, Al Jazeera reported that Turkey had supplied Kyiv with Bayraktar TB2 combat drones equipped with Serbian-made MAM-L smart micro munitions manufactured by EDePro company based in Belgrade. The report cited sources from both Turkish and Ukrainian defence industries confirming the deal.
- In January 2022, Bellingcat published an investigation based on open-source data showing that several types of Serbian-made weapons had been used by Ukrainian forces against Russian-backed separatists since 2014. These included sniper rifles (Zastava M93 Black Arrow), anti-tank missiles (Malyutka), grenade launchers (BGA-30), and mortars (M74 HE).
Serbia’s involvement in supplying weapons to Ukraine has raised diplomatic tensions with both Russia and Greece. Russia has expressed its displeasure with Serbia’s arms trade with Kyiv several times, accusing it of violating its neutrality policy and undermining its strategic partnership with Moscow.
Greece has also protested against Serbia’s arms exports after the plane crash near Kavala,
demanding explanations from Belgrade about the origin and destination of the cargo and the identity of the sender and receiver. Greece said it was not informed about the sensitive nature of the shipment and that it violated international law and security standards.
Moreover, Serbia’s arms trade with Ukraine raises ethical dilemmas about its role as an arms exporter in general. Some critics argue that Serbia should stop selling weapons to countries involved in wars or human rights violations, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, or Myanmar. Others contend that Serbia has the right to pursue its economic interests and sovereignty as an independent state.