Home WORLD NEWS Tug of war pits Russia vs. the West over Serbia

Tug of war pits Russia vs. the West over Serbia

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BATAJNICA, Serbia — Scarred by the memory of NATO bombs, and with close historical links to Moscow, Serbia would not seem an obvious choice for joint exercises with the U.S. military.

But last week, more than 200 American and Serbian paratroopers leapt from two U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft together, painting dark dots onto a grey November sky.

In the late 1990s, U.S. aircraft targeted Serb forces as part of NATO’s military intervention in the Balkans. This time, troops from both sides took selfies with each other and used parachutes provided by the Pentagon.

“We have that special brother bond,” Spc. Jacob Hanner, 21, from the U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, told NBC News. “We are actually family, jumping together, no matter what nation we jump with.”

Dubbed “Double Eagle,” the exercise was the most extensive joint training between the countries in more than 10 years.

NATO remains deeply unpopular among Serbians, following the alliance’s 1999 intervention in Kosovo which was aimed at driving our Serbian forces and stopping the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians.

It was American bombers that led the deadly airstrikes during the NATO campaign, killing more than 1,200 people including up to 500 civilians, according to Human Rights Watch. NATO’s actions were widely regarded in Serbia as unjust.

‘Serbs like Putin’

Opinion polls suggest most Serbians publicly favor military cooperation with Russia. Serbia was formerly part of communist Yugoslavia and Belgrade has long maintained strong ties with the Kremlin. And like Russia, Serbia is an Orthodox Christian and Slavic nation.

Image: Joint Exercises in Serbia

Dejan Garic