Despite its alleged neutrality, there is evidence that Serbia has provided as many as 3,500 Grad rockets to Ukraine. According to Ukraine Arms Tracker, the rockets being delivered to Ukraine are the ER Grad 2000 version, with a maximum range of 40 kilometers instead of the standard 20 kilometers. If the authorities in Belgrade knew this, it would be a significant violation of the country’s declared policy, one reaffirmed by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić on multiple occasions.
These new revelations follow a 2019 scandal in which Serbia was caught supplying 60mm mortar shells to Ukraine that ended up being used against the civilian population in the Donbass region. Vučić apologized for that incident, claiming that Krušik had sent them to Poland. But published documents proved that Ukraine was listed as the recipient.
The Mash News Agency published a video of a warehouse in Bratislava where the 3,500, 122mm M-21 rockets for Grad rocket launchers were being housed before their transfer to Ukraine. According to Mash, the rockets were delivered to Slovakia on February 4 and 6. The video also presents documentation showing the Serbian Defense Company Krušik as the manufacturer and that the order was placed by a Canadian company JNJ Export Import for use in Turkey. The exporter of the ammunition was the Serbian company, Sofag. Upon receiving the shipment, the Turkish company Arca transferred the ammunition to the American company Global Ordinance, which then transferred it to Slovakia for use by Ukraine.
The Serbian Defense Ministry publicly denied any involvement in the matter. “We absolutely do not export weapons to Ukraine or Russia, and we have the right to export (weapons) to other countries that are legitimate end users,” Serbian Defense Minister Miloš Vučević told members of parliament on February 27. “Whether private companies buy (weapons) on third country markets and whether they sell to companies in other countries is not an issue for Serbia. We will not sell to anyone who participates (in military conflict) and we do not want our weapons to be used against any of the parties.” Vučević added.
The deal has aroused a great deal of suspicion because the Serbian company Sofag that exported the ammunition to Turkey is owned by Jelena Petrović, the daughter of shady arms dealer Slobodan Tešić. Tešić was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2017 for bribery and violating arms embargos. The sanctions, however, have not stopped him from selling arms to as many as six American companies, including the Global Military Products – part of the Global Ordnance group, which supplies weapons to the U.S. Department of Defense.
The Global Ordnance Group is owned by Marc Morales, another disreputable arms dealer who was previously indicted by the U.S. Justice Department in 2010 on charges of trying to bribe Gabon’s Minister of Defense to secure a $15 million arms deal. The Gabon deal was, in reality, an FBI sting operation to root out bribery of foreign officials in the arms industry. The case, however, fell apart on technicalities the following year.
In a 2022 interview with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), Marc Morales, however, disavowed any ties to Tešić, saying, “To my knowledge, nobody from my company has ever met him and Global Ordnance definitely does not do business with him. And to clarify, I have never met him either.”
Do Serbian authorities know to whom they ended up selling the rockets? Alexander Milovanović, a former employee of the security service of the arms production enterprise Jugoimport SDPR, told the Serbian News Agency N1 that it is not plausible that Serbian authorities did not know of the transfer. “Based on the end-user certificate coming directly from a Turkish partner structure of our Ministry, these weapons should have ended up in Turkey, but apparently that did not happen. Then, the company MSM Novaky handed over the missiles to the Global Ordnance Trading Company, owned by Mark Morales, to which the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense issued a certificate of use,” Milovanović told N1.
Interestingly, Ukraine Arms Tracker seems to corroborate Milovanović, posting on Twitter, “It is also worth noting that the markings on the rockets were changed and do not match those usually seen on G2000 rockets, which may indicate that the manufacturer/exporter knew the rockets ultimate destination and tried to hide the origin.” While it is unlikely that definitive evidence will be revealed, it seems plausible that both Serbian and American authorities had direct knowledge of the scheme and signed off on it. Serbian authorities have been trying to appease Washington and Brussels in their efforts to join the European Union, while American authorities have no compunction about using disreputable arms dealers in their efforts to prop up the regime in Kiev.
The situation in northern Kosovo continues to devolve, as Albanian officials in Prishtina refused to allow Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia entry into Kosovo and Metohija, demanding that the Patriarch distance himself from the Serbs on the barricades as a condition of entry into the province.
By refusing to allow the leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church to go to the Patriarchate of Peć, the ancient seat of the Serbian Patriarchs, to prepare for the Orthodox celebration of Christmas, the government in Prishtina is escalating the conflict.
In a statement on his Instagram account, the Serbian Patriarch wrote: “As the Patriarch, I was headed to the original and most significant seat of my church. As a priest, I was headed there to be with my people ahead of the happiest holiday. As a citizen, I was headed to my house, to my home. From the moment when I set off on this journey, I have been repeating this: wherever I have been outside of Kosovo and Metohija, I have been in a foreign land. I am only at home in Kosovo and Metohija. The doors to my home have been locked to me today and I am praying to God to unlock the hearts of those who have shut them, and for the love of Christmas and the birth of the Savior to touch the minds and consciences of all people.”
In response to Prishtina’s actions against the Orthodox Church, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić met with Patriarch Porfirije to discuss the situation in Kosovo and Metohija. Several Serbian media outlets have reported that Vučić asked Patriarch Porfirije to give his blessing to defend Kosovo and Metohija just like Prince Lazar did before the famous Battle of Kosovo in 1389.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić ordered that Serbian forces be placed on the highest level of combat readiness. Serbian Interior Minister, Bratislav Gašić, acting on instructions from President Vučić ordered that “all measures be taken to protect the Serbian people in Kosovo.” Gašić added, “I have ordered the full combat readiness of all units of the ministry… as soon as they are placed under the command of the Chief of General Staff and occupy the designated positions operational plan.”
Serbian Defense Minister Miloš Vučević explained that Vučić’s order is aimed at protecting the territorial integrity of Serbia: “It raises us to the highest level of action to be carried out by the Serbian Army, protecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Serbia and protecting all citizens of Serbia and preventing terrorism and terror against Serbs wherever they live.”
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said last week that the situation in Kosovo was “on the brink of armed conflict,” as tensions rise. On Sunday, the crisis worsened when Kosovo police special forces reportedly attacked Serbs at barricades near the settlement of Zubin Potok. No injuries were reported.
Over 50,000 Serbs live in northern Kosovo where local Serbs erected barricades after Kosovo Albanian police arrested a former Serbian police officer on December 10 on charges of assaulting Kosovo police officers during a recent protest. Protesters are demanding the release of the arrested officer along with other demands before they will agree to remove the barricades.
Ethnic Serb mayors in northern municipalities, along with local judges, and over 600 police officers, resigned last month in protest over a Kosovo government decision to replace Serbian-issued car license plates with ones issued by the government in Pristina, which they do not recognize. Prishtina suspended the policy due to the outrage it caused, but the mass departure of local officials has created security problems in Northern Kosovo. In response, Kosovo’s government scheduled local elections in Serb-majority municipalities for December 18. The main Serbian political party announced a boycott.
Some 3,760 NATO troops (KFOR) are present in the area attempting to maintain a fragile peace and Kosovo’s government has asked KFOR to remove the barricades, but they are reluctant to get involved directly. Today, Western Ambassadors called on Serbian President Alexander Vucić to remove barricades erected by Serbian nationals, saying that if he fails to comply within 24 hours, they will not prevent Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti from acting on his own to remove them, a move that could spark renewed violence in the region.
Following this latest incident, Vucic consulted with Prime Minister Brnabic and the head of the Serbian General Staff, General Milan Mojsilovic. Vucic said that the situation in northern Kosovo and Metohija is difficult and requires the presence of Serbian armed forces along the administrative line between the autonomous region and mainland Serbia. The Serbian President dispatched Mojsilovic to the border with Kosovo on Sunday. In an interview with Pink TV, Mojsilovic said, “The tasks the Serbian army has received... are precise, clear, and will be fully implemented.”
Reprinted with permission Exit By Alice Taylor
Kosovo’s NATO-led international peacekeeping force KFOR said it is still considering the Serbia’s request to send its own military to the north of the country as exacerbated tensions enter the 12th day.
Elections were set to be held on 18 December in the Serb-majority municipalities of Zvecan, Leopsavic, Zubin Potok and North Mitrovica after representatives resigned en masse over Pristina’s plans to ban Yugoslav-era license plates. The election was then postponed to April 2023 by President Vjosa Osmani in a bid to calm the situation.
But the situation has continued to be unstable, with ethnic Serbs creating roadblocks and barricades on crucial roads and reports of attacks with weapons and objects on police, journalists, and the Central Election Commission.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic said he would formally request to send in Serbian military and police to “preserve the peace” under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244.
“We are currently analysing the latest request of the Government of Serbia. We will continue to provide a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement that encourages productive dialogue, allowing leaders to create long-term and sustainable solutions for the benefit of all communities living in Kosovo,” KFOR said in a statement.
Article 4 of the resolution allows for the return of Serbian military and police under certain circumstances, including marking/clearing minefields, maintaining a presence near Serbian heritage sites, and maintaining a presence at key border crossings.
“There are many actors on the ground committed to making progress, but KFOR remains alert and ready to react. We are prepared to intervene, if necessary, to prevent escalation, in accordance with our UN mandate,” KFOR added.
On Tuesday, explosions were reported in North Mitrovica but police said there were no injuries. The Association of Journalists of Kosovo, however, said that the explosions occurred near a TV crew.
“The Association of Journalists of Kosovo expresses its deep concern over the situation created in the north of the country, and calls on all colleagues to be extra careful during their reports from this part. At the same time, the AGK again asks the competent bodies to take the appropriate measures to ensure that journalists can carry out their work without being endangered or hindered,” they said.
Meanwhile, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said the region is on the brink of war.