Serbian mortars and mines, bought by a mysterious arms supplier and supposedly sure for Bangladesh, then transported by a Ukrainian aircraft that crashed in Greece — it sounds just like the plot of a political thriller. However that is actuality.
Within the late night of July 16, 2022, a Ukrainian Antonov An-12 transport aircraft crashed close to town of Kavala, in northeastern Greece, killing all eight Ukrainian crew members. The aircraft had taken off from town of Nis, in southern Serbia, and was carrying 11.5 tons of Serbian-made mortar rounds and mines.
The individual behind the weapons’ manufacturing is reportedly Slobodan Tesic, allegedly one of many largest arms sellers within the Balkans and a long-term presence on US sanctions lists. The official nation of vacation spot for the munitions was Bangladesh.
The pilot reported engine issues shortly after takeoff, whereas flying over the northern Aegean Sea. An emergency touchdown was now not attainable. The crash close to Kavala was devastating and munitions continued to blow up into the subsequent day.
Not one of the crew survived the aircraft crash and munitions exploded for hours
Largest arms producer within the area
The accident has soured diplomatic relations between Greece and Serbia on one hand, and Greece and Ukraine on the opposite. The Greek authorities apparently was not conscious of the delicate cargo and it has lodged protests in each nations.
The disaster has additionally drawn consideration to the Serbian weapons and arms trade, which routinely makes headlines for corruption and unlawful exports.
Serbia is one among central Europe’s largest and most essential arms producers, a convention that stretches again to the period of Yugoslavia. Almost totally state-owned, the trade is a vital a part of the nation’s financial system. With regards to what’s on supply, Serbia has practically all the pieces, from handguns and mines to artillery and tanks, and even missile programs, drones, fighter jets and digital tools like radars.
The Serbian Ministry of Protection estimated the entire worth of Serbian arms exports in 2020 at some $600 million (€530 million), a determine that represents round 3% of Serbia’s general exports for the yr. Nevertheless, dependable figures are usually not accessible.
A Serbian-made tank
Arms deliveries to conflict and battle zones
Crucial patrons of Serbian arms and army tools are the United Arab Emirates, Cyprus, the US, Bulgaria and Saudi Arabia. The trade’s clients span the world and the department is reportedly not choosy about who they promote to, mentioned political scientist Vuk Vuksanovic, of the Belgrade Heart for Safety Coverage.
“The Serbian state actually desires to squeeze each dinar attainable out of this trade,” he informed DW. “The pink line, nonetheless, is that export vacation spot nations should not be underneath UN sanctions and should not be experiencing armed battle.”
Nevertheless, Vuksanovic mentioned, Serbia “does not at all times observe these guidelines.”
In actuality, over the previous twenty years, the Western Balkan nation repeatedly exported weapons to conflict and battle zones and delivered them to nations that have been underneath an arms embargo.
In fall 2019, it was revealed that Serbian weapons had made it into the arms of militant Islamists in Yemen by way of Saudi Arabia. In summer season 2020, Azerbaijan’s army found Serbian weapons that had been bought to Armenia and had landed within the disputed area of Nagorno-Karabakh. And in February of this yr, a community of Serbian investigative journalists uncovered that Serbian weapons had been delivered to Myanmar even after the army coup of February 2021.
Serbian President Aleksander Vucic critiques Serbian-made weapons
Sanctions for arms supplier
The person whose identify repeatedly comes up in reference to unlawful Serbian arms dealings is Slobodan Tesic. The 64-year-old has been within the Balkan weapons enterprise for many years. From 2003 to 2013, he was on a US sanctions checklist for having illegally delivered arms to Liberia. In December 2017, sanctions have been as soon as once more positioned on him for quite a few unlawful arms dealings. They continue to be in place at the moment and embody, amongst different issues, a journey ban and the seizure of his US-based property. American officers consult with him as the most important supplier of arms and munitions within the Balkans.
Tesic can also be on the heart of a number of corruption affairs inside the Serbian arms trade, together with what’s referred to as the Krusik export scandal, which got here to gentle in fall 2019. Corporations belonging to Tesic reportedly purchased merchandise from state-owned arms producer Krusik nicely under market worth, then bought them at a a lot larger worth overseas — despite the fact that the state-owned firm Yugoimport SDPR is liable for managing Serbia’s worldwide arms offers.
Cash for the president?
Cash transfers to the ruling celebration of President Aleksander Vucic, the Serbian Progressive Get together (SNS), are additionally mentioned to have been a part of enterprise transactions between state-owned arms firms and personal companies. Tesic is likely one of the largest SNS donors. In response to Serbian media he additionally has a diplomatic passport.
The present Serbian Protection Minister’s father, now deceased, is alleged to have been concerned in related weapons offers for years, one thing each Vucic and the minister, Nebojsa Stefanovic, have constantly denied.
Present Serbian Protection Minister Stefanovic (heart) has denied that his father had ties to the arms trade
It is no shock that Tesic’s identify has surfaced in relation to the supposed arms supply to Bangladesh and the aircraft crash. He reportedly is behind Valir DOO, the corporate which was formally liable for the deal. Tesic has not made any public remarks in regards to the occasions or the allegations towards him.
Belgrade’s balancing act
There’s additionally hypothesis as as to whether the weapons weren’t really destined for Bangladesh in any respect however for Ukraine. Each Protection Minister Stefanovic and the supervisor of the Ukrainian firm Meridian, which owned the downed aircraft, have denied this.
However Vuksanovic believes that essential questions stay. “The general public is owed a solution as to why a Ukrainian aircraft was transporting Serbian weapons proper now, whereas a significant worldwide battle is raging on Ukrainian territory,” he mentioned.
The political scientist sees the affair as an expression of Belgrade’s “seesaw” insurance policies , trying to stability between totally different main worldwide powers.
“This is able to imply, on the one hand, secret munitions for Ukraine to be able to please the West,” he mentioned. “Then again, concessions are being made to Russia by Serbia. All of that is a part of the conduct of Belgrade’s elites, their balancing between totally different worldwide powerhouses to be able to purchase themselves providers in return. For Serbia, the query is now whether or not these insurance policies will collapse at a sure level as a result of a kind of powerhouses is offended.”
This text was initially revealed in German.
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