Germany says Serbia should align with EU policies if it wants to join bloc

BERLIN/BELGRADE, April 12 (Reuters) - Germany said on Tuesday it noted reports that Serbia was receiving Chinese surface-to-air missiles, warning it expected the Balkan country to align its foreign policy with the European Union if it wanted to become a member.

Media reports said Chinese military cargo planes last week delivered to Belgrade the FK-3 surface-to-air defense system, similar to Russia’s S-300 or the United States’ Patriot.

Serbian authorities did not confirm the delivery took place.

Belgrade paid for the FK-3 missiles and China’s CH-92A combat drones in 2019, making Serbia their first operator in Europe.

“As a matter of principle, the Federal Government’s expectation of all EU accession candidates is that they join the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and thereby moves increasingly closer to the EU,” Germany’s Federal Press Office said.

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, speaking at a military drill at the weekend, acknowledged he plans to present “the newest pride” of its army this week, without elaborating.

Serbia is balancing its European aspirations, and partnership with NATO, with its centuries-old religious, ethnic and political alliance with Russia.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Monday renewed calls for Serbia to join the EU, the United States and other countries in imposing sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Belgrade has voted against Russia three times at the United Nations but stopped short of imposing sanctions against it.

“If you want to become a member of the EU, which Serbia does want, then it is central that at such moments you join EU foreign policy, and sanctions that go along with it,” Baerbrock said.

Serbia’s military is loosely based on ex-Soviet technology and Russia is one of its main suppliers. Belgrade is also dependant on gas and oil supplies from Russia.

The West fears that weapons purchases from China and Russia could contribute to their influence in the tense Balkan region which is still recovering from the devastating wars in the 1990s.

On Monday, Vucic told Reuters Serbia plans to purchase a dozen Dassault Rafale fighter jets, a move seen by experts as a sign of Belgrade distancing from Russia.

China has invested billions of euros in Serbia, mainly in soft loans, infrastructure and energy projects. (Reporting by Andreas Rinke in Berlin and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Editing by Mike Harrison)