Serbia denies it sent weapons to Ukraine, as leaked document claims
The Washington Post April 12, 2023
The Serbian government on Wednesday rejected claims that it had sent weapons to Ukraine and doubled down on its policy of noninvolvement in the war, after a leaked U.S. intelligence document, the authenticity of which could not be verified, appeared to indicate that the Balkan country provided lethal aid to Kyiv.
“Serbia has not sent any weapons to Ukraine and all allegations published on that topic are false rumours,” Serbian Defense Minister Milos Vucevic said in a statement. “Someone obviously aims to drag Serbia into that conflict.”
Serbia is among just a few European countries that have not issued sanctions targeting Russia, with which it has close cultural and business ties, in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Belgrade has struggled to balance these policies with its long-standing ambition to become a member of the European Union.
Brussels views Belgrade’s ties to Moscow with concern and has sought to pressure Serbia to join the sanctions effort. The Balkan country has refused, although it voted at the United Nations to condemn the war and Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory.
The denial on Wednesday puts Serbia on a growing list of countries that have publicly rejected or questioned the authenticity of leaked documents that appear to detail the breadth of U.S. espionage on both friendly and hostile countries.
The leak, which could be the largest to hit U.S. intelligence and defense agencies in years, has sent Washington scrambling to smooth diplomatic slights and to find the original source of the breach. The reports appear to have first started to circulate on the chat application Discord weeks ago.
The document in question, titled “Europe: Response to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict,” assesses the positions of more than three dozen European countries and NATO members. The classified memo includes Serbia on a list of countries that have “provided or committed to provide lethal aid” to Ukraine and that have the “military ability” to do so. Serbia is listed as not having “provided or committed to provide training” to Ukrainian troops.
Sending weapons to Ukraine would represent a significant departure from Belgrade’s public position — and remained off the table, Vucevic said. “Serbia has not and will not sell any complex combat systems, armaments, assets or weapons to Russia or Ukraine throughout the duration of the conflict,” he said.
Vucevic appeared to leave open the possibility that Serbian weapons could have ended up in Ukraine through third-party countries and without his government’s involvement.
“There is always the possibility that some weapons might mysteriously appear on the territory where there is a conflict, but it has absolutely nothing to do with Serbia,” he said. “That is a question for the countries that do not conform to international norms or terms of business agreements.”
Serbian weapons export deals include provisions that forbid buyers from transferring the goods to third parties without Serbian approval — and the Belgrade government cannot be held responsible for any violations of those rules, the Serbian Defense Ministry said in a statement sent by email.
The document leak comes just a month after Belgrade publicly denied reports in Russian media outlets that Serbian-made rockets had ended up in Ukraine. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, said at the time that Moscow was “deeply concerned” and called the allegations “an extremely important matter indeed for the bilateral relationship,” state media reported.