Political Considerations? Serbia Could Ditch Russian MiG-29’s, Pivot to French Rafales to Modernize Air Force

Serbia nears deal to acquire 12 French Rafale fighter jets for €3 billion, shifting away from Russian aircraft, allegedly due to sanctions. The purchase aims to significantly boost Serbia's air combat capabilities and military ties with France amidst efforts to modernize its force

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

Belgrade’s project to acquire 12 Rafale fighter-bombers has finally moved ahead. Last year, Serbia announced that it was prepared to spend 3 billion euros on this purpose.

During a visit to the Batajnica air base on March 31, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić (since 2017) stated that his government was in the process of “acquiring new fighter jets” for the Serbian Army.

“Today, only a part of our enhanced capabilities was showcased and how much we have changed, not only in appearance but also in the level of functional and operational capability of our MiG-29 aircraft. When I was Minister of Defense, we only had one aircraft; today we have 14, and the procurement of new, more fighter aircraft for the Serbian Armed Forces is underway,” said President Vučić, adding that we are acquiring many other things and continuing to strengthen our Army, and, as he emphasized, we primarily rely on domestic industry and production.

President Vucic’s official visit to France was scheduled for April 8. According to Reuters, the Serbian President has indicated that one objective of this visit will be to strengthen cooperation between Serbia and France in the defense industry. The Élysée Palace confirmed this on April 5.

“The two presidents will also discuss strengthening bilateral cooperation in the fields of defense, energy, innovation, and artificial intelligence,” the French presidency announced.

According to his remarks reported by Reuters, the Serbian President assured that discussions on the purchase of 12 Rafales are still ongoing. “We are determined to buy new aircraft … that would significantly improve our combat capabilities,” he said.

On April 8, the Serbian President arrived in Paris on a working visit, where he met with the French Minister of Defense, Sebastien Lecon.

The negotiations concerned cooperation between the two countries’ military agencies and defense enterprises, exchange of experience and technologies, and “the acquisition of the most modern weapons for defense.”

On Monday, he spoke several times with President Emmanuel Macron. The Serbian delegation also held negotiations with Dassault Aviation’s leadership.

The Serbian President wrote on his Presidential website, “We had a meeting with the Dassault group regarding Rafale aircraft, as well as other forms of cooperation. We will also have the signing of a contract that will significantly enhance the security of our country.”

Serbia expects the contract to be signed within the next two months. 

“We discussed all types of cooperation. We reached agreements on the purchase of Rafale fighter jets. The signing of the contract can be expected in approximately two months, with the presence of the President of France,” the Serbian President wrote on April 8.

The Serbian President has now agreed with the French President regarding acquiring new Rafale fighter jets.

President Aleksandar Vucic announced on his website, which is different from the Presidential website, that the country is very close to signing a contract to purchase French aircraft.

“I have some news; with the company ‘Dassault,’ we are very close to signing a significant contract for the purchase of Rafale. And we discussed this with President Emmanuel Macron last night,” said President Vučić.

“I am very pleased with the results of these negotiations; we openly and specifically discussed all kinds of cooperation with one of the most important countries in the world. We have reached, as it seems to me, specific agreements regarding the purchase of Rafale,” wrote the Serbian President.

Earlier, the President of Serbia stated that the fighter jet, according to him, is “one of the three most powerful in the world.”

It is worth noting that in 2023, it became public that Serbia intends to stop purchasing Russian MiG-29s due to sanctions.

Serbia previously relied on Russian-made MiG-29 aircraft for its air defense, but after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine, obtaining spare parts for these aircraft became nearly impossible.

In late December 2021, the Serbian Ministry of Defense was choosing between Russian and French fighter jets. Minister Nebojša Stefanović stated then that Belgrade was leaning more towards Rafale, but the final decision would be made only after a thorough analysis of the situation since “we are talking about very expensive items.”

In the spring of 2022, the President of Serbia revealed that the country was negotiating with France to purchase 12 new fighter jets, as well as with “another country for another 12 aircraft,” but these would be used. At that time, he did not specify which country he was referring to.

Political considerations may also influence the purchase of Rafales, given that Serbia does not anticipate Russian assistance in the event that the Serbian Republic of Bosnia (RS for Republika Srpska) develops a secessionist tendency. Additionally, France can bolster Serbia’s European integration efforts.


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