January 30, 2018 / 2:48 PM / a year ago

Montenegro inks deal to buy three helicopters from Bell Helicopter

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Montenegro signed a deal on Tuesday to buy three helicopters made by Bell Helicopter, part of Textron Inc, in a drive by NATO’s newest member to bolster its defenses.

The 30 million euro ($37 million) contract was negotiated through Canada’s government-to-government contracting organization, the Canadian Commercial Corporation, and includes two Bell 412EPI helicopters and one Bell 412EP helicopter.

“Montenegro wants to improve the capabilities of its army,” Defence Minister Predrag Boskovic said in a statement.

He said the helicopters would be used to support land and sea activities, search and rescue operations, medical evacuations and to patrol Montenegro’s borders and territory.

One helicopter will be delivered to the small Adriatic nation in the first quarter of 2018 and the remaining two in the fourth quarter.

Montenegro joined NATO in June, despite opposition from Russia which is among top investors in the EU candidate country.

It has a population of 650,000 and a military of only 2,000, but is strategically positioned along the Adriatic coast and surrounded by NATO members or hopefuls, except Serbia which maintains military neutrality.

Montenegro’s accession marked the first expansion of NATO into ex-Communist eastern Europe since its neighbors Albania and Croatia joined in 2009, and the first since relations between Russia and the West hit a post-Cold War low with the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

Another former Yugoslav Republic - Macedonia - is next in line to join NATO, but its bid is being blocked by Greece over a 25-year long dispute over the name Macedonia.

($1 = 0.8053 euros)

Reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Ivana Sekularac and Mark Potter

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