WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today included in the Congressional Record the following statement in support of his measure requiring a Pentagon report on Russia-Serbia military cooperation. The measure passed the House today as part of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R.2810).

“Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank Armed Services Chairman Thornberry and Ranking Member Smith for their support of my amendment to direct the Secretary of Defense to report on military cooperation between Serbia and Russia.  I would also like to thank the gentleman from Alabama, Mr. Aderholt, for cosponsoring the amendment.

“Countries of the Balkans are a part of Europe.  Period.  From the former Yugoslavia, three have already entered NATO and two are now part of the European Union. In the wider Balkans, even more countries have joined NATO and the EU and others want to be part of both, all, except for Serbia, that is, which is unwilling to put itself on a path to future NATO membership.

“Frankly, Serbia is not only keeping NATO at arms’ length.  As we speak, it is continuing to rearm with Russian weapons.  In a deal reached on December 21 of last year, Russia agreed to give Serbia six surplus MiG-29 'Fulcrum' fighter aircraft, 30 T-72 tanks, and 30 BRDM-2 armored reconnaissance vehicles.  Rather than forcing Belgrade to pay for these items worth more than $600 million on the open market, the Kremlin just gave them to Belgrade.  And, now Serbia is seeking Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missiles.  If I were sitting in one of Serbia’s neighbors, most of which are NATO members, I don’t think I would be comfortable with Belgrade’s tilt toward Moscow.

“Even more, only last month, Serbia joined Russia and Belarus in what the countries’ called ‘Slavic Brotherhood’ drills very close to NATO-member Poland.  This is only the latest in a series of military exercises where Serbian forces are training with Russian troops.  According to RFE/RL, ‘The first were held in 2015 in Russia's Krasnodar Krai, which is close to Western-leaning Georgia and Ukraine's Russian-controlled Crimean Peninsula. The second were held in November 2016 in Serbia, while NATO was staging a civil emergency drill in neighboring Montenegro.’

“If Serbia wants to become part of the West, this isn’t the way to get there.  Frankly, I’m growing increasingly concerned with the choices Belgrade is making on military and security matters. This is why I wrote today’s amendment.  We need to take a closer look at Russian-Serbian military ties and judge their implications for US national security policy, Serbia’s membership in NATO’s Partnership for Peace, and the impact on Serbia’s neighbors. 

“I know that Vice President Pence is meeting with Serbian President Vucic on Monday.  This occasion represents a good opportunity to present our US concerns about Belgrade’s direction on security policy and a variety of other matters.

“Mr. Speaker, again, I thank the Chairman and Ranking member for their support, and I look forward to seeing the report required by the amendment.”

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